Sheila McNulty The big oil backlash?

Big oil has few fans as it is. After it finishes the string of rallies it is planning across the US in coming days, it may have even less.

The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s national trade organization, is among those sponsoring demonstrations against the Waxman-Markey legislation making its way through Congress. The first of these rallies was in Houston, energy capital of the world, on Tuesday, and set the tone for what is to come.

At the rally, oil companies tried to put a human face on their campaign, keeping oil executives off the stage, which was dominated by local leaders, such as the head of the Astros baseball team and the local chambers of commerce. But there was no doubt most of the 3,000 in attendence were from oil companies, whose leaders urged them to spend their lunch break giving a voice to the fears of conventional oil that their jobs could well be lost by plans in the bill to build a renewable energy future on the back of the fossil fuel industry.

It is never good to hide one’s beliefs. And while ExxonMobil, the biggest publicly listed oil company in the world, referred questions about the rally to the American Petroleum Institute, it was upfront about its views, telling the Financial Times:

ExxonMobil, along with many other companies, trade associations
and individuals, is concerned that the climate change bill currently before
congress risks the loss of potentially millions of US jobs and places US
businesses at a disadvantage with global competitors. We believe a better
economic and environmental alternative is a well-designed, revenue-neutral
carbon tax.

Chevron, the US’ second biggest oil company, also referred rally questions to the American Petroleum Institute, but told the FT:

Chevron is aware of API’s efforts and has invited Chevron’s Houston
employees and retirees to participate in the Energy Citizens Rally. The purpose of this rally is to give our employees and retirees a voice in the energy policy discussion. Chevron supports a national climate change program that is transparent, promotes energy efficiency and conservation measures, treats all participants fairly and protects our economy and energy security.

But the effort to stage the rallies behind the banner of a group called Energy Citizen, a nonprofit set up to lobby against Waxman-Markey, does make it seem a bit sneaky. And Big Oil does not need to look any worse than it already does. Had the oil companies made clear the industry was holding the demonstrations, complete with T-shirts and lunch, and put on their own speakers to deliver their own messages, it might have come off better. Many people who had no intention of listening would have simply shaken their heads.

But the industry just looked silly leaving Jim Hackett, chief executive of Anadarko Petroleum, a well known, opinionated source, sitting in the audience while a speaker from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce went up on stage to tell the audience her group had not even taken a position on Waxman-Markey. Sure she was a human face. But not one who should be speaking at such an event. It all seemed a bit, er, staged.

Indeed, staging the rallies behind the banner of Energy Citizen has sparked a backlash, with US veterans now planning a press conference today to criticize what it calls the oil dependence tour by a front group established by Big Oil’s Washington lobbying arm, the American Petroleum Institute. From the press release:

The veterans will discuss why this ‘oil dependence tour’ threatens our national security.  They will also repeat their strong support for immediate Congressional action on a clean energy and climate plan that breaks our addiction to oil, tackles global warming, and enhances our national security.

Perhaps Big Oil is going to go back to behind-the-scenes lobbying after this.