Blog Archive

Friday, September 24, 2010

What if oil industry officials spoke the truth? (and other fantasies) American Petroleum Institute is mocked and shamed

by Joseph Romm, Climate Progress, September 24, 2010
NRDC has launched an ad campaign mocking the American Petroleum Institute with this gem:

NRDC’s Pete Altman blogs, “Turning the Tables on Big Oil’s Phony ‘Real People’ Ads“:
America’s polluters are worried at the prospect of being held accountable for their … well, pollution.
You may have seen ads from American Petroleum Institute, with the “real people” reciting obviously scripted lines touting the Big Oil line that labels anything big oil doesn’t like – clean energy, lower pollution, accountability – as a “tax.”
The ads made us wonder what it would look like if they portrayed what big oil is really saying. So, we produced our own parody version of the API advertisements….
which Politico’s Morning Energy mentions today and which you can see right here:
(Help us Hold Polluters Accountable, right here, right now.)
The problem is (for API) that most Americans don’t agree with big oil and other polluters on this. In fact, poll after poll shows that the public strongly supports the enforcers of our clean air laws and wants polluters held accountable.
And since the US Environmental Protection Agency is moving forward to hold polluters accountable for toxic pollution, air quality in America’s cities and global warming pollution, API is worried. So API has come out against proposals to reduce ground-level ozone (or smog), toxic air pollution from industrial plants and global warming pollution, saying essentially (and I’m paraphrasing hundreds of pages of detailed comments) that its too expensive to be worth the cost. To them.
From our point of view, holding polluters accountable means we save lives, keep people healthy and keep our economy strong. For example, the EPA estimates that tighter air quality standards for our cities will annually prevent as many as:
  • 12,000 deaths
  • 58,000 asthma attacks
  • 21,000 hospital and emergency room visits
  • 5,300 heart attacks
  • 420,000 missed work days
  • 2,100,000 missed school days
And, as I mentioned earlier this week, reducing toxic pollution from industrial plants would save as many as 5,000 lives and prevent 250,000 lost workdays in the first year of implementation alone.
But polluters would rather put their money elsewhere. Which is why API is relying on creating the appearance of public support. By making their lobbyists organize rallies and then busing oil company employees to them. Check out this video which plainly shows API rally attendees – dressed in their red t-shirt uniforms – being bused in together and then marched into the seating area in precise military drill team-style rows.
In fact, this whole campaign is so regimented that it’s right out of that old political joke:  The spontaneous rally will start at precisely 1:45 p.m. … be there, or else…
No kidding. As the Akron Beacon Journal noted of an API rally held in Canton, Ohio earlier this month in an article whose subhead read “Some say they were forced to attend”:
Attendees told the Akron Beacon Journal that while speakers lamented the loss of U.S. jobs, they distributed T-shirts made in Mexico and Honduras.
And the goodie bag that contained the shirts was made in China.
Many, if not most, of the 400 participants were delivered in motor coaches from local oil and gas industry companies. One oil and gas industry employee who did not want to be identified for fear of discipline at work said he and co-workers had no choice but to attend. (emphasis added)
API’s approach of dressing up their agenda as a popular one goes back a ways. Back in 2009, API ran full-page ads in beltway publications attacking Congress for “new energy taxes.”  But as Think Progress pointed out at the time, the “real people” featured in the ads were stock photos from Getty Images.
To go with their faux people and faux rallies, API is also bankrolling reports with faux numbers that support their claims that protecting public health is too costly.
All this because they want to undercut the Clean Air Act by blocking implementation of clean air rules that would (Check out my earlier blog on API’s attack on tightening smog standards.)
If there’s a “tax” here it’s the burden that Big Oil puts on the health of Americans.   But don’t expect API to be out there warning you about that tax any time soon … and please help us urge Congress to hold polluters accountable by taking action today.
Cheers to NRDC.  Jeers to Big Oil, again.


    This goes back to the American notion that a company’s sacred mission is to maximize profits at all times, or see CEO’s risk lawsuits or termination from their Boards based on “fiduciary responsibility.” I even heard Robert Kennedy Jr. wagging his finger at an audience in San Francisco repeating this mantra, as if we have to work around it.

    In fact, this is a peculiarly American notion. In Scandinavia, for example, corporations are charged with social responsibilities, and have an equal mission to do good. Outcomes include cleaner energy, and much less disparity in income -- 20% of Americans control 86% of the wealth, while in Sweden the ratios are 20%/36%.

    Oil companies deserve to be demonized, but a bigger problem is that America has become a feudal country, with increasing entitlements to the rich and a fraying social contract. This is going to have to be addressed, starting with alternative media outlets regaining control of the public dialogue, which has become so bowlderized it can only be dealt with via satire and scorn (Colbert, Stewart, Buffalo Beast).

    I was a follower (if that’s the right word?) of the API and member of the AIChE long ago, and a chemical engineer from U.C. Berkeley, and I worked in the oil industry for several years, at Chevron (in research and engineering). I am deeply embarrassed and frustrated by the API. They are doing real and immense damage, not only to the climate and environment but also to democracy itself. In my view, we shouldn’t just be mocking their ads, but people (and thousands of them) should be demonstrating outside of the API headquarters in Washington, DC, on a continuous basis, until things change.

    The nonsense and whitewashing and distractions coming out of the API and, also, the ad campaigns of the vast majority of oil companies, are immensely damaging. The folks in charge should be held accountable. I hope that major public interest groups, environmental groups, and law firms are collecting the facts, examining the law, and finding every basis possible upon which to sue those folks for Billions, including the leaders themselves, as individuals.


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