We'll get to the encounter with Mr. Gerard below, but first, some context:
Gas prices! Everyone's talking about them, including our government at a Congressional hearing today held by the House of Representatives Energy & Power Subcommittee featuring, among others, Mr. Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute. As API's president, Jack Gerard is Big Oil's top lobbyist, and today he was doing what companies like Exxon and Shell pay him the big bucks to do - justify government subsidies and giveaways to Big Oil.
Also attending the hearing: referees raising the red flags on misleading statements and calling attention to the $5.97 million that oil companies have given to current members of the Energy & Power subcommittee since 1999 (data provided by the Center for Responsive politics through DirtyEnergyMoney).
This particular meeting of the subcommittee exposed some of the more blatant absurdities that API and their oil funded buddies in Congress like to propagate. Take gas prices - Jack Gerard likes to say "we need more American energy," by which he means we need to open up every square inch of soil and water to oil and gas extraction. His argument is that gas prices would be lower if we sacrificed our land and investment capital to Big Oil's drill.
Luckily Congressman Edward Markey was there to point out how ridiculous it is to assume anything extracted by multinational oil corporations is "American." Once multinationals like BP and Exxon get oil from American sources, it becomes their oil, to sell on the open world market for the best price. The fact is, letting companies drill for oil on American soil won't result in any drop in price at the gas pump because the amount of oil American sources would produce is miniscule in comparison to the amount consumed globally. Allowing companies like Shell to drill off Alaskan shores or in other high-risk ways wouldn't save American consumers a dime, but would add many millions of dollars to Shell's bottom line. Gerard's refusal to acknowledge this belies a truth about API that he doesn't want the public to know - the American Petroleum Institute does not want to lower gas prices for Americans, API wants to increase the political power and profits of their member organizations.
That's why Rep. Markey suggested some more appropriate labels for Gerard's group than the American Petroleum Institute; like the "World Petroleum Institute" due to multinational members like BP and Shell who will sell oil from America to the highest bidder, the "Wall Street Petroleum Institute" because Gerard and API refuse to acknowledge the role speculation plays in driving up oil prices, or the "Caymen Islands Institute", because of API's dedicated defense of tax breaks, subsidies, and other loopholes which keep oil corporations from paying their fair share.
If Gerard meant it when he said"The more transparent the discussion, the better off we'll be," he would take one of Rep. Markey's suggestions. That way the American public would know that API's attacks blaming the president for high gas prices, repeated lies about Keystone XL's affect on gas prices, or blocking rules to protect air and water from the dangers of fracking are all part of an extensive dirty energy PR campaign.
Short of re-branding his organization, Jack could at least be transparent about the amount of oil industry money he is using to influence elections through the Vote 4 Energyad campaign. The Vote 4 Energy campaign has blanketed cable television and much of Washington DC in misleading pro-drilling, pro-fracking propaganda in an attempt to further Big Oil's political agenda by misleading voters. API wants you to vote for ExxonMobil and Shell instead of yourself.
In spite of Mr. Gerard's lip service to "transparent discussion," when we repeatedly asked him how much oil money he is using to influence the upcoming election with Vote 4 Energy propaganda, he didn't want to be part of the discussion. If Mr. Gerard is so proud of the ad campaign, why won't he talk about how much of API's $200 million budget is going toward Vote 4 Energy?
The annual State of the Union address is political theater at its best--millions of Americans tune in to watch the big wigs schmooze, applaud the President in partisan waves and reveal the administration's platform for the rest of the year. Entertaining as it can be, the State of the Union also gives frustrating examples of who is successfully framing the national debates in our country. This year it was obvious that Big Oil, particularly the American Petroleum Institute (API), is forcing the U.S. to adopt it's narrow idea of America's "energy future."
In fact, the President of the United States sounded a lot like the self-appointed President of U.S. Energy--API president and CEO Jack Gerard. Compare one of Jack Gerard's key talking points from his recent "State of American Energy" address with a line from Obama's State of the Union speech last night (emphasis added):
GERARD: "We need all of our resources—oil and natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, biofuels and more."
OBAMA: "This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy - a strategy that's cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs."
It appears that, after repeated circulation among oil lobbyists and their apologists in Congress, President Obama has bought into this "all of the above" nonsense, an empty rhetorical gesture designed to keep our country dependent upon dirty energy like synthetic tar sands crude oil and gas obtained through controversial hydraulic fracturing. The "all of the above" line has been promoted on the websites of the American Petroleum Institute as well as API's "Energy Tomorrow" blog, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers website and among members of Congress.
What Big Oil really means is that they'll continue to wave the carrot of clean energy in our faces as they push aggressively for increased oil and gas projects, subsidies and profits. This agenda infiltrates our government through the millions spent on Congressional campaign contributions and millions more on federal lobbying, and infiltrates the American public through expensive advertising campaigns like API's new "Vote 4 Energy" commercials. See Greenpeace's mock Vote 4 Energy commercialat the bottom of the blog.
While I'm sure Gerard and other oil lobbyists are thrilled with the results of their mass media campaigns and federal influence peddling, you can be their public response to the President's speech will be less appreciative.
Dirty energy lobbyists like Jack Gerard aren't going to stop harassing President Obama even if his administration "opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration." It will never be enough for Big Oil, which is why it's alarming that the President just bowed to two of the American Petroleum Institute's three major demands: opening up "75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources," which spells inevitable doom for our coastlines, and pushing dangerous gas fracking forward despite the inability for state regulators and the Environmental Protection Agency to keep up with the industry's voracious appetite. API and it's Big Oil members aren't going to stop griping over the rejected Keystone XL tar sands pipeline because of these concessions--they will continue to demonize Obama's cabinet as a perpetual obstruction to "freedom" and "prosperity" and bombard us all with inflated jobs claims cooked up by their own reports. Congressional Republicans are already demanding more in response to Obama's energy plan despite it's destructive concessions, repeating the "all of the above" line in the process.
These criticisms are not to say that the President got it all wrong on his energy ambitions. His statements on prioritizing clean energy development and investing in widespread energy efficiency are crucial to the reduction of greenhouse gas concentration in our atmosphere as well as securing our energy infrastructure, creating space for newer, safer jobs while reducing unnecessary risks like deadly air pollution from refineries and unstoppable oil spills started by foreign companies like BP.
Without making the connection to the oil industry (and every other large industry meddling in federal policies), President Obama mentioned the "corrosive influence of money in politics." The oil industry has spent over $55.7 million on federal politicians in the last five years and an additional $651 million on federal lobbying in the same timeframe. Activist leader and scholar Bill McKibben notes that the 234 House Representatives who voted last December to fast track the Keystone XL pipeline took $42 million from the fossil fuel industry, while the 193 opposing members took a cumulative $8 million.
If that's not corrosive influence, then I don't know what is.
A Greenpeace activist hands out flyers promoting a mock Vote4Energy commercial calling attention to Big Oil's astroturf campaigns.
Today, the American Petroleum Institute unveiled its 2012 Vote 4 Energy astroturf campaign, centered around a major election-linked CNN advertising package that PolluterWatch helped expose last month with audio recordings from inside the studio. Vote 4 Energy attempts to show 'real Americans' who are 'energy voters,' meaning they are committing to vote for whichever politicians support Big Oil's dirty agenda in this election year. Typical. API also bought the back page of the A section of the Washington Post with a Vote 4 Energy ad, space that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to normal people.
Anticipating this new misinformation campaign, PolluterWatch created a mock commercial to show how API and it's oil company members (Exxon, BP, Shell, Chevron and all the usual suspects) have to fake citizen support for the oil industry:
Knowing that API is rolling out the astroturf on cable TV, we decided to roll out actual astroturf at the location of their press conference today, literally making attendees walk down a long astroturf 'green carpet' shrouded by Big Oil logos as they entered the event. The K St lobbyists seemed downright confused by seeing the corporate logos that are normally invisible at API events.
Inside, API CEO Jack Gerard announced the campaign and promoted dirty energy development like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in his "State of American Energy" address. Apparently Jack thinks he's the President of United States of Energy, I thought he was just an oil lobbyist. Reporters leaving the session spoke about how bogus the event was--same old same old from Jack.
Jack Gerard may want to trick Americans into his Vote 4 Energy nonsense, but he demonstrates the same predictable rhetoric that oil companies always use to make themselves sound somewhat responsible, when everyone knows they aren't--see our profiles for ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, all multi-billion dollar corporations, making record profits even in a global recession, and looking for more tax breaks and handouts. If you are watching election coverage on CNN and spot API's astroturf ad, don't buy the lie. Vote for yourself, not oil executives.
Recently, Greenpeace got a rare look behind the curtain at how Big Oil stages citizen support for huge oil companies, when activists got inside a TV commercial shoot in Washington DC. The American Petroleum Institute (API), and their PR firm Edelman, were filming a new series of TV commercials that we learned API plans to air nationally on CNN starting in January. The ads, aimed at the 2012 elections, will aim to demonstrate authentic citizen support for the oil industry's agenda.
Greenpeace disrupted API's astroturf commercial plans by not following instructions and going off script, declaring support for a clean energy future and demanding an end political interference by the oil industry's lobbyists and PR firms.
Inside API’s Secretive Commercial Shoot:
Details of the CNN January ad campaign as described by API and other clips are posted below.
Activists (or…citizens) were led through the wardrobe and makeup process, approved for looks by representatives from API and Edelman Blue Advertising, before waiting their turns to go on set. Participants were required to be registered voters, explained an API representative, to protect API from ”opponents” who may inquire if actors stating “I vote” are actually eligible to do so. Other recruited actors were being watched by the industry representatives during their takes, repeating lines like “That [energy independence] will come from our own energy resources – like oil and natural gas.”
Late in the morning, the API Edelman team filmed three unexpectedly honest ‘citizens’ who made clear the script did not represent their real opinions on energy. Greenpeace researcher Connor Gibson of the PolluterWatch project repeated their scripted line, “I vote,” then declared, “But I am a clean energy citizen. I will not believe the lies and influence peddling of the American Petroleum Institute, which would leave you to believe that I am a citizen that is okay with giving my tax payer dollars to billionaires and millionaires that run oil companies, the most profitable industry on the planet.” Gibson stressed movement away from a “perpetual petroleum future” and finished his speech by telling Edelman Blue President Robert McKernan “we need clean sources of energy, like wind and solar.” Listen to Gibson's full declaration and read the transcript, below.
In addition to Gibson, two other participants refused to recite API’s script. Peter Roquemore of the Sierra Student Coalition and Gabe Elsner, Deputy Director of the Checks and Balances Project showed up to the shoot with the expectation that they would provide their own assessments of American energy. Both decided not to participate once they were fed oil industry talking points on camera.
API’s New “Vote4Energy” Ad Campaign Exposed
In a taped conversation with the activists, an API communications advisor described the upcoming Vote 4 Energy advertising package in great detail: "This is scheduled to launch in January in a commercial on CNN, so it'll be a national spot...API—American Petroleum Institute—bought into an election package so anytime CNN does anything like covering the presidential debates, cover a caucus, anything like that, those will be the kinds of programs where the commercial is seen." The commercial debuts on January first. How much the deal with CNN cost remains an open question.
The API rep also said, “we are shooting a ton of people so, you know, you may make the cut, you may not, it all depends on the demographic.” Earlier in the morning, API agents were overheard expressing a need for more people of color in the commercials, noting that black and Asian demographics tend to disagree with Big Oil's warped political positions. API has been caught in the past photo-shopping print ads to include racial minorities in purchased iStock Photo to make their already fabricated supporters appear more diverse.
API BUSTED: Staging Grassroots Support for Dirty Energy
Over two years ago, Greenpeace obtained a confidential memo [pdf] from American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard, asking API member oil companies to support a campaign to fake a grassroots movement called “Energy Citizens.” Under the guise of this astroturf group, Big Oil would pay for public events similar to Tea Party rallies in support of their absurd wishlist: killing global warming legislation, unrestricted offshore oil drilling, increased tar sands development through the looming Keystone XL pipeline, hydraulic fracturing for “natural” gas, and no form of accountability for their immense contributions to climate change.
Given the nature of API’s newest commercial shoot, its Energy Citizens rallies where participants had to be instructed to clap (see [Astro]Turf Wars), and its repeateduse of iStock Photos to boost the perception of public support for Big Oil, it is reasonable to question the authenticity of similar PR moves like the “1’m One” or “One in a Million” advertising campaigns, also run by PR company Edelman, which purport to show real people who work for the oil industry.
The American Petroleum Institute, the top lobbying firm for the oil and gas industry, has spent at least $30 million peddling its dirty influence to our federal government in the last five years, and recently announced it would start funneling oil money to politicians. With it's $200 million Big Oil budget, API has played a key role in the industry’s climate denial movement by funding junk scientists like Willie Soon and coordinating a public relations strategy to create doubt over climate change.
Recordings from Inside the American Petroleum Institute Vote4Energy Commercial Shoot:
API: "Just so you know, I don't know how much they told you, but this is scheduled to launch in January in a commercial on CNN, so it'll be a national spot...API--American Petroleum Institute, uh, bought into an election package so anytime CNN does anything like covering the presidential debates, cover a caucus, anything like that, those will be the kinds of programs where the commercial is seen."
API: "And I'm sure they checked with you but you're a registered voter and all that stuff?"
Gibson: "Yeah, they asked me. I don't know how you check that, but I am."
API: "We, um...the only reason is really a lot of the, you know, the script is saying "I vote," "I vote for energy," "I vote for..." so, we at least want to be genuine in the sense that you are a registered voter. As you can imagine, there are some opponents of the oil and natural gas industry and so we always have to be very careful of, you know, what our opponents could use against us. And that is, you know, if they found out that we were using people who aren't actually registered voters, or not even eighteen, or whatever, so..."
“No they put them in costumes and then the makeup lady takes care of them and then they walk them out, and all they do is the director feeds them the lines and he talks them through it. It’s…he’ll [Gibson] be fine.”
Director, prompting the first scripted line: “Smile, deep breath... ‘I vote.’”
Gibson: “I vote. But I am a clean energy citizen. I do not believe in the lies and influence peddling of the American Petroleum Institute, which would lead you to believe that I am a citizen that is okay with giving my taxpayer dollars to the billionaires and millionaires that run oil companies, the most profitable industry on the planet. The American Petroleum Institute is peddling its influence to make you think people like me are fully in support of [a] perpetual petroleum future. ‘Energy Citizens’ is an astroturf front group created by the American Petroleum Institute to make it sound like there is citizen support for petroleum in our energy future, and we need clean energy – like wind and solar.”
The results of the report’s analysis of university-industry contracts raise troubling questions about the ability of U.S. universities to adequately safeguard their core academic and public-interest functions when negotiating research contracts with large corporate funders.
In nine of the 10 energy-research agreements analyzed, the university partners failed to retain majority academic control over the central governing body charged with directing the university-industry alliance. Four of the 10 alliances actually give the industry sponsors full governance control.
These findings are not surprising when the amount of money put down directly by Big Oil is taken in to account. 10 university-industry agreements together totaled $833 million in confirmed corporate funding (over 10 years) for energy research funding on campus.
As large as this figure is, it represents less than half of what Industry actually controls.
Because of the federal government’s growing preference for allocating federal R&D funds through corporate matching grants and other cost-sharing and cooperative-research arrangements, private industry now directly influences anywhere from 20 percent to 25 percent of university research funding overall. In this way, a significant share of U.S. taxpayer funding that starts out as “public” funding is effectively turned “private” by the time it reaches the university investigators in their academic labs.
This follows common scare-talk any time an industry giant faces new regulations in the public interest--ballooning the price tag of improving worker safety conditions or environmental precautions and predicting economic apocalypse. As if the oil industry isn't making enough money, or spending enough money, buying Congress to prevent ever-dreaded accountability legislation.
While Gerard will never admit it, an Energy [R]evolution is possible, and calling out those who value green paper over a green planet is a vital part of getting the public behind real solutions: energy conservation and efficiency, a decentralized renewable energy economy, and a phase-out of the dirty fossil fuels that have led to global warming.
Stalling and obstructing are not coveted American values, but innovation is. It's time to go beyond oil, where the fortune of dirty influence peddlars like Jack will just be a stain on history.
PolluterWatch is a project of Greenpeace that holds polluters accountable for the work they’re doing to block the transition from the dirty fossil fuels of the past to the clean energy sources of the future.
The science is clear: We must take immediate action to avert the worst effects of global warming. But polluters, their lobbyists, and the politicians who work with them are holding the climate debate hostage and poisoning the debate about policies that would lower our greenhouse gas emissions and kickstart a clean energy revolution. Help us hold the polluters accountable. Get in touch today and find out how you can help. Learn More