A grassroots organizer has quit the Nature Conservancy to head up grassroots outreach for the oil industry’s biggest trade group, a highly unorthodox career move that has set off nervous ripples in the capital's green community.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) announced on Monday that it has hired Deryck Spooner to serve as their "external mobilization director." Spooner will "coordinate the association's efforts to develop, mobilize and sustain a political infrastructure of individuals, groups, and coalitions to advance priority advocacy issues with elected officials." API President and CEO Jack Gerard called Spooner a "veteran of coalition building and grassroots" in a press release.

Of course, this veteran of coalition building acquired a good deal of his expertise as the climate change campaign manager for a group that's usually on the other side of the fence to API when it comes to environmental issues. In an interview with Greenwire, Spooner tried to make light of his switch from big green to big oil:

"I have worked for vastly different organizations throughout my career," Spooner said. "The bottom line is it's all about advocacy, that's what I'm passionate about. Mobilizing and organizing people to influence the public process and public policy is what I truly love to do."
"At the end of the day, I don't necessarily believe that the views of [the Nature Conservancy] and API are incompatible," Spooner added. API members use technology "to ensure that the places that they drill are not impacted," Spooner said, while the Nature Conservancy uses a scientific approach in deciding where to protect land and water. API members, he said, "don't just want to drill anywhere for drilling's sake. There's a lot of science going into where they drill."

His move comes as API is ramping up its efforts to oppose a climate bill and push for favorable provisions in energy legislation. The group sparked criticism last year for holding "grassroots" rallies against the climate bill last year that were directly coordinated by API lobbyists and attended by many employees, retirees, vendors, and contractors from API member companies.

Spooner brushed off API's role in such activities, pointing out that the US Climate Action Partnership, the business-environmental coalition pushing for a cap-and-trade bill, contains members from the oil industry. (He didn't note that two of the three the oil members left the coalition last month.) "What API wants is a really good climate bill at the end of the day," Spooner claimed.

The Nature Conservancy is among the more conservative of the major green groups—it's not heavily involved with climate bill lobbying and its main focus is working with major nongovernmental and corporate partners on conservation initiatives. Nevertheless, there is plenty of alarm in the environmental community over the oil lobby poaching one of their own. "They play tackle football," John Passacantando, the former executive director of Greenpeace now consulting on environmental issues, tells Mother Jones. "We still use the little flags with velcro."

Cap and trade may be effectively dead in the Senate, but environmental groups are upping the pressure on the Senate to keep some sort of price on carbon in the draft legislation expected to be released by Sens. John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman this week. "The challenges facing the nation today are far too serious and too urgent for half-measures or steps backward," argue 14 groups in a letter sent to senators late last week.

The Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Blue Green Alliance, and the National Wildlife Federation are among the signatories. And the green groups do have some support in Washington; Lindsey Graham has indicated that a "half-assed" measure that doesn't include a carbon price won’t be sufficient, and Barack Obama has echoed this point as well.

Some lawmakers have been pushing for the Senate to ditch a specific measure to tackle carbon emissions and instead pursue an energy-only bill that won’t do much to curb pollution. The letter argues that the energy-only route would mean the Senate would "forgo over 1 million potential jobs, fail to reduce our oil dependency, pose serious risks to the environment, and potentially increase carbon pollution."

Right now, no-one knows what mechanism the forthcoming Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill will adopt to price carbon. But so far at least, the senators are indicating that it won't be the energy-only approach.

Is cap-and-trade officially out of the picture in the Senate? That appears to be the message from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a key senator working to formulate a comprehensive energy and climate bill. "Cap-and-trade is dead," Graham declared last week, according to a Washington Post piece on a meeting he held with environmentalists.

Graham, John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) may release a draft of their plan to price carbon dioxide pollution as early as this week, according to reports. The pricing part of the bill has remained one of the key sticking points, Kerry told reporters last week, and they are considering a variety of alternatives to a cap and trade mechanism—from cap-and-dividend to a carbon tax to a bill that targets specific industries instead of imposing an economy-wide cap.

It seems most likely that the senators will run with some combination of these different systems. From the Post:

Power plants would face an overall cap on emissions that would become more stringent over time; motor fuel may be subject to a carbon tax whose proceeds could help electrify the U.S. transportation sector; and industrial facilities would be exempted from a cap on emissions for several years before it is phased in. The legislation would also expand domestic oil and gas drilling offshore and would provide federal assistance for constructing nuclear power plants and carbon sequestration and storage projects at coal-fired utilities.

Cap and trade has long been regarded as the most politically feasible option to rein in greenhouse gas pollution. That Kerry, Graham and Lieberman are considering dropping the idea is evidence that it has now become politically unpalatable. The three senators are slated to have a number of meetings with colleagues this week as they hammer out the final details of their proposal. But, Kerry said last week, the system they'll offer for regulating emissions "will be different than anything that has been put on the table in the House or Senate to date."

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), the beleaguered coal lobby group, quietly lost a significant industry player last November, Mother Jones has learned.

Progress Energy, a North Carolina-based utility, decided late last year to not renew its membership in the multi-million dollar group that promotes so-called "clean coal," a spokesman confirmed. The departure was not made public, but the group recently disappeared from the list of ACCCE members.

"We look at all of our memberships in these industry groups every year," Drew Elliot, a Progress spokesperson, explains to Mother Jones. "We look at what we need to do and how that compares to frankly how much it costs to be in them." Apparently, ACCCE no longer made the cut.

2009 was not a great PR year for ACCCE. It came to light that the group had paid a shady subcontractor to send forged letters to members of Congress lobbying against the cap and trade bill. Then, one of the organization's vice presidents may have lied under oath about the group's position on climate legislation. The group was also busted for misrepresenting a veterans group in an email. ACCCE came in at No. 3 on our Dirty Dozen of climate change denial in December, winning third place for its efforts to curry support for the as-yet non-existent technology of "clean coal" while their VP of communications refuses to say whether coal contributes to global warming.

There were several high-profile departures from ACCCE last fall over its discordant climate policy. Electric utility giant Duke Energy and Alstom, a French company that makes components for power plants, left in September.

Progress paid $1 million to ACCCE in 2008, putting the company among the group's biggest contributors. But the company has been backing away from coal of late, announcing in December that they are shutting down 11 coal-fired power plants. Instead, they would move toward natural gas, a less greenhouse-gas intensive fuel source. A state paper hailed the move as evidence of "the beginning of the end of the era of cheap coal."

Elliot noted that while coal remains about half of its energy mix, Progress sees natural gas as a bridge fuel to cleaner energy sources and has been moving its infrastructure in that direction. "We are taking steps to reduce our carbon emissions," said Elliot. "Technological advances that can help us produce electricity cleaner and cheaper are going to be what our customers expect us to embrace."

Since we all know by now that air travel takes a giant toll on the earth, maybe you've been resisting those impossibly cheap last-minute weekend getaway deals. Good for you. But what about business travel? For most of us, flying for work falls into the category of "those emissions aren't my fault because my boss made me do it." But a recent study (PDF) by England's Cranfield University found that most companies aren't doing their part in cutting back on flying time. In fact, they're planning even more air miles.

Almost two-thirds of the businesses surveyed (all were UK based) were expecting to increase their air travel budget in the next fiscal year. When lead researcher Keith Mason and his team asked professionals about the reasons for their most recent business trip, 20 percent said it was simply "to get out of the office."

If your company plays fast and loose with the plane tickets, consider pointing out potential travel cuts to your superiors. "A significant amount of travel is for training and in-company meetings," says Mason. "You don't need to press flesh when you are meeting other people that work in your company." Encourage the folks in charge of the office tech budget to invest in high-quality telecommuting software instead of hacking the cheap or free downloads. Take video chat: If there's a delay, or the picture's fuzzy, or you're always losing the connection, your officemates are more likely to get frustrated and quit using the technology. (Only half of the offices in Mason's study were using business-quality videoconferencing software.) If the environmental angle doesn't convince your boss, try mentioning the savings: In the long run, telecommuting will be much cheaper than plane tickets.

If there's really no way around air travel, the single most important thing you can do is to fly economy instead of first class. The Cranfield researchers found that first- and business-class seats are often twice the size of economy seats—which means half the passengers creating the same amount of emissions. Yes, those two giant armrests are much more comfortable than your sleeping seatmate drooling on your shoulder, but the more people crammed onto the plane, the lower the per-passenger emissions. If you're booking your own flights, know that some airlines are greener than others.

Another interesting tidbit: Mason and his colleagues point out that every little bit of weight reduction on flights counts. Though they haven't crunched the numbers, the team speculates that airlines eliminating unnecessary stuff onboard—extra baggage and catering and duty-free shopping trolley—could make a difference in emissions, too. Passengers can help by packing light. And, says one Japanese airline, don't forget to pee before boarding!