Organizer Jumps Ship From Green Lobby to Oil Lobby

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.”




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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.