'Astroturf' campaign fights climate bill

American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity logo.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, organizers of those town hall meetings protesting any overhaul of health insurance can take this next story as a big fat compliment.

Big oil and coal companies are using their trade associations to organize what would appear to be grass roots protests against the climate bill working its way through Congress. I said appear to be.
Marketplace's Steve Henn has more.


STEVE HENN: The American Petroleum Institute is big oil's lobbying muscle in Washington. And the group is planning a long hot summer for dozens of members of Congress.

Earlier this month, API's president sent a memo to members asking them to help turn out hundreds of employees for protests in more than 20 states. The aim -- to undermine support for the Climate Change bill in Congress.

DAN LASHOF: Any time a trade association tries to portray their activities as grass roots activity when it's clearly being orchestrated by corporate headquarters, that raises very serious questions about making sure that the public really understands what is going on.

Dan Lashof directs the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council. He says many groups are attempting to pass off corporate opposition to the bill as a grass-roots uprising. Earlier this summer, a lobby shop working for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity or ACCCE...

LASHOF: Fabricated letters to members of Congress, literally forged letters.

From local chapters of the NAACP and other civil rights groups...

LASHOF: Opposing climate legislation in the House, and it turned out that those organizations had not sent any such letters.

ACCCE apologized and fired the lobbyists. But Lashof is equally disturbed by another part of this story. Many companies that belong to the American Petroleum Institute and ACE say publicly, at least, that they support legislation to combat climate change.

So he wonders why their trade representatives are actively opposing it. Tom Williams is a spokesman for Duke Energy. His company has left other trade associations over this issue. But...

TOM WILLIAMS: I think Duke Energy has been a moderating influence on the membership of ACCCE overall.

And still other firms are playing both sides of the aisle. For example, BP's spent millions creating a green corporate image, but it's working with American Petroleum Institute on rustling up employees for the upcoming protests.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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