API: Still Astroturfing


The Senate authors of pending climate and energy legislation have been heavily courting industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute to support their bill. API was one of the most visible opponents of the House cap-and-trade bill last year, organizing astroturf “Energy Citizen” rallies around the country. But has API declared a cease-fire on the as-yet-non-existent Senate legislation while senators and the Obama administration bend over backwards to please them? Far from it.

Nary a night goes by here in Washington that I’m not confronted with multiple ads from API claiming that “Congress is considering $80 billion in new energy taxes.” Last night, I saw three just during “The Daily Show.”

“Now is no time to raise energy costs,” say the lo-fi ads. (Examples here and here.) They feature average-looking Americans complaining about how hard they’ll be hit by this non-specific “energy tax.” “Families are having a tough time right now as it is,” says one. This “would take money away from local businesses and stores,” says another. One ad last night featured a young woman bemoaning that the “tax” might prevent her from taking college classes or driving home to see her family.

Of course, this isn’t the first or only example of API using fake Americans to scaremonger about non-existent energy taxes. They’ve also been using them in ads lambasting a proposal from the Obama administration to cut their lavish subsidies. In a hilarious example last December, the group digitally manipulated images to add minorities into ads (to make the opposition to energy taxes seem more diverse). They’ve also got a website, EnergyTomorrow.org, extolling the “benefits of oil and natural gas.”

Here’s one ad:

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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.