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Posts Tagged ‘API’

The protests in Wisconsin. The passage of the CR in the House in the dead of night over the weekend. And the continued debate over how to balance the Texas $26 billion budget gap. We kept getting told there are no sacred cows- that all have to share in the burden and pain of budget squeezing.

But realpolitik has shown exactly where the real sacred cows are, while corporate tea party crusaders use the budget crises as a reason to bust unions, raid pensions funds, and slash health services and education budgets, they are leaving intact the tax breaks for oil and gas companies.

Let’s talk Texas first:  a new study out this morning by the Texas Tribune showed that Texans want a balanced approach to fixing the budget.  The single most popular answer was a 50/50 split of revenue enhancements and spending cuts.  However, when you asked people what they wanted to cut spending on, the answer was a resounding NO! to educationTexans say no to budget cuts cuts, NO! to health services cuts, NO! to environmental reg cuts. And when asked where to increase revenue, it was equally sticky.  The single most popular options, the only ones which get over 50% support, was to legalize casino gambling and increase alcohol taxes.  But taxing vice can only get us so far.

One of the things not touched by the poll were the enormous tax breaks we give to the natural gas industry, one which the LBB has suggested eliminating, namely a $7.4 billion tax cut to oil and gas companies using “high cost” wells- which generally means one thing: hydro-fracturing. Fracking is used on areas like the Barnett Shale and has been linked to spoiled water, a cancer cluster located in Flower Mound/Dish, and natural gas turning tap water flammable, and a garden hose into a flamethrower.

At the very least, all of the drilling is producing more air pollution than all of the cars and trucks in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. So to add insult to industry, not only is the drilling on the Barnett Shale ruining families’ homes and making people sick, but we are paying the companies billions of dollars in pork to do it, robbing school children and those who need a hand from social services.

And to kick us even more when we’re down, Chesapeake Energy has the audacity to say if their corporate welfare goes away, they’re going to have to curtail drilling on the Barnett Shale.  From the Star-Telegram’s story:

An executive with Chesapeake Energy told members of the Tarrant County legislative delegation Wednesday that the company would consider curtailing activity in Texas if the exemption is discontinued.

“We’d have to look at it on an individual well basis, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that we would reduce our activity in the state of Texas,” Adam Haynes, senior government affairs director for Chesapeake, said after his appearance before lawmakers. “It certainly affects the Barnett Shale, absolutely.” (more…)

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Now that the ball’s dropped, toasts made, fireworks popped and black eyed peas consumed, we’re feeling reflective today.  Faced with that eternally annual question, “Should Auld Aquaintance Be Forgot?“, I’m moved to such mental poetry as “Heck no, this year was too much fun!”

We’ve had a hell of a year here at Texas Vox.  In such a short span we’ve gone from a humble policy blog, primarily read internally and by our own interns, to stake our claim as a top climate and energy blog in the state, with a national and even international reach.  And you, dear citizen-readers, are not the only ones to take notice: from responses we’ve received over the year it is clear that we’re also on the radar of agency commissioners, legislators, city council members and even the office of the governor.  Not too shabby for 12 month’s time, and an exciting place to be as we enter a new decade and crucial political time.

So here’s the first segment of our “Year in Review” series: the Top Texas Vox Stories of 2009.

1. Energy Citizens

Remember when, way back in August, your intrepid friends at Texas Vox boogied down to Houston to crash the American Petroleum Institute’s astroturf “Energy Citizens” rally?  This was the first of several rallies across the nation that API staged to make it look like there was a strong, ground-up movement against a federal climate change bill.  But it turned out that the event was more of a company picnic than a grassroots campaign; they blocked our entry and wouldn’t even let in the “real” anti-cap and trade grassroots, as organized by folks like Freedomworks — no American flags either! But never fear, your own Citizen Sarah was able to sneak past their burly guards and interview a few of these so-called Energy Citizens — who we found out say the darndest things (like that they don’t really know much of anything about the climate and energy bill and are there because or their employers)!

API’s antics didn’t end in Houston, either — in North Carolina, they even locked out the state representative of the district where the rally was held! After a few more rallies, it quickly became clear that on top of being funded by the American Petroleum Institute and stocked with energy company employees, the majority of them were also organized by oil-industry lobbyists. But by that point, no one was buying API’s story anymore.  Way to bust ‘em, Netroots!

2. The 2009 81st Legislative Session

Activists had high hopes for the 2009 81st Legislative Session.  With the new Obama administration, fear of pending federal climate legislation, and a new Speaker of the House to break the Craddickocracy, it seemed almost certain that good bills would pass to move Texas closer to a clean energy future.

Two weeks into the session, Public Citizen Texas’ legislative package (which included such lofty goals as significant climate change legislation, a major update of state energy efficiency programs, a non-wind renewable portfolio standard (RPS), and a bill to create incentives for solar power) was in the best shape it had ever been, and the session looked to be one of the most productive in history.  At this point, all of the bills Public Citizen’s Texas office supported had made it out of committee, been passed by either one chamber or the other, and had made it out of Calendars committee and were scheduled for debate.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of our legislation was calendared behind an incredibly contentious Voter ID bill which would have required Texas voters to present a valid driver’s license to vote.  In order to block this bill, House Democrats adopted the “chubbing” tactic — talking bills to death — to avoid getting far enough down the bill list to have to vote on the Voter ID bill.

This stalling technique cut five days from the end of the session deadline and killed a tragically long laundry list of bills that were scheduled after Voter ID.  As an example, SB 16, an omnibus air quality bill which would have provided funding for TERP, plug-in hybrids, and a diesel emissions reduction plan, was directly after Voter ID on Calendars.  Our solar incentives bill was also on the same page, and the non-wind RPS bill was scheduled to be discussed the following day.  It was a very disheartening end to an otherwise shining legislative session — kind of like a great interception and full field run that ended in a trip just shy of the 1 yard line.

But there were still some great victories in there. These major wins included:

  • Funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP) for areas in non-attainment status of the federal Clean Air Act (CHB 1796)
  • A carbon dioxide registry to address the state’s contribution to global warming (CHB 1796)
  • A “green fee” bill allowing the governing board of public colleges and universities to institute an environmental service fee (once approved by student body election)
  • A bill to create municipal solar districts that would allow local governments to provide low-cost loans to consumers to install solar on roofs (HB 1937)
  • A “no regrets” strategy for greenhouse gas reduction in the state.  This bill will require the State Comptroller to examine the state’s energy use in order to find ways to reduce our emissions and save money at the same time (SB 184)
  • A green fleets bill to promote low emissions and plug-in hybrid vehicles for fleets of major state agencies (HB 432)

For the full text, all-green-groups wrap-up number, read the press release Texas Legislature Advances Clean Power and Green Jobs, but Loses Steam in Political Wranglings.

Check back with us tomorrow for more fun stories from 2009!

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, cleaner cars, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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As you may have read elsewhere on our blog, we tried to attend the “Energy Citizens” rally in Houston yesterday but were turned away.

Even far-right teabaggers, brought out to the event by FreedomWorks and a promise of a free meal, weren’t allowed in, despite actually being sympatico with Big Oil’s agenda.

The offending item that got one kicked out?  An American flag.  Why does Big Oil hate our freedom?


This is just the 30 second trailer– a longer, more in-depth interview with people who were not allowed in the rally will be posted in the next 24 hours.

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energycitizenYesterday the Public Citizen Texas team drove down to Houston to crash the American Petroleum Institute’s Energy Citizen event.  Billed as a “grassroots” rally against the cap and trade bill currently before Congress, this event was nothing more than a company picnic.

About 2500 energy employees were brought by charter bus to the Verizon Wireless Theater, a private location that could be easily secured to keep undesirables out.  David, Ryan, and Andy were all denied access, but stealthily dressed in Banana Republic and spectator pumps, I was able to blend in with the crowd and slip into the hot dog line.

Inside the theater it became evident quickly what a polished, professional event this was.  Right at the door you could pick up a bright yellow t-shirt with a clever slogan on it like “I’ll pass on $4 gas”, “I’m an Energy Citizen!”, and “Congress, Don’t Take Away My Job!”  The same lines could also be found on bumper stickers and the same kinds of cardboard signs you would wave at a football game.

donttakemyjob

In the middle of the arena was a giant action center where employees could voice their disapproval of climate change legislation through a variety of mechanisms.  Six or seven computers were cued up with petitions to Sens. Hutchison and Cornyn, and attendees were invited to text JOBS to 363749(ENERGY) to get involved.  Drop boxes for postcards were also positioned in the corners of the room, and “activists” could sharpie their signatures to 8 foot tall “shame on you” or “thank you” letters to Congressmen that voted for or against the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

My favorite aspect of the rally by far, however, was the high school marching band and star spangled dance team.  When I asked one of the teenage dancers what she thought the rally was about, she told me she thought that it was about conserving energy.

I was able to interview several rally attendees, but the majority of folks regarded me with suspicion or didn’t want to talk to me.  Others clearly didn’t have much of an opinion on the bill other than what they’d been told, but one gentleman I spoke to was actually concerned about the special interest carve-outs in the bill for dirty coal.  Stay posted for the video of these interviews later today, with the working title “Energy Workers Say the Darndest Things.” Teaser:

After about an hour I started to run out out of room on my camera, so I moved toward the front doors to see if I could trade off cameras with Andy, who was still stationed outside.  Big mistake.  Once the chief security guard saw me make eye contact with a marked man, I was out of there.  He grabbed my shoulder and asked “what energy company do you work for?”  When I said I wasn’t with an energy company but was a member of the media, he said I was misrepresenting myself and summarily kicked me out.

I was a little disappointed to miss out on the great list of speakers, especially rodeo man Bill Bailey, who was master of ceremonies (irony, irony, irony, seeing as this rally was all hat and no cattle).  But speaking to other individuals who had been denied access was even more enlightening than listening to Big Oil preach their sermon.

This was such a fake, Astroturf event that they didn’t know how to handle legitimate grassroots support. A couple of women who had been to some of the teabagger events and townhalls came down, armed with American flags and excited to protest “crap and tax” — but even THEY weren’t allowed in.  Several others who had heard about the rally through Freedom Works, on right wing radio, or in the paper were also locked out.

Yesterday’s rally was the first of about twenty rallies that will be staged nationwide over the next few weeks.  Thanks to Greenpeace, we already knew Big Oil’s game plan: rally up a bunch of Astroturf support to kill cap and trade.  But now we know the full story — they don’t even want to hear the voices of their real grassroots.  These events are by invitation only, and all other members of the public — for or against climate legislation — will be shut out.  If you don’t work for the company, you’re not invited to the picnic.

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Your intrepid friends at Public Citizen tried to attend the astroturf “Energy Citizens” rally yesterday in Houston.  We’re busy pulling together our bloggings and all the footage we shot, but keep checking back here for updates throughout the day.

We were not allowed in the meeting, as we did not work for an energy company, but we managed to sneak some great footage before being escorted out and being told to leave the premises.

We have:

Footage of the 34 busses used to bring people into the rally from different energy companies.

Normal Citizens who weren”t good enough to be “Energy Citizens”– people who weren’t allowed in the meeting, as this was for energy company employees only!  Interviews include lots of crazy conservative teabaggers who hate cap and trade (I understand why Public Citizen and Sierra Club might not be allowed in– why weren’t even they allowed?), nice ladies who were escorted out of the building because they dared to bring American flags to the rally (why does Big Oil hate America?), and lots of people angry at oil companies because they’re hiding this from the public.

“Energy Company Employees Say the Darndest Things” — watch as your friends in the oil and gas industry display ignorance as to the salient details of the ACES bill and spout misinformation about it, or, the people who do know a lot about the bill talk about how it’s a bad piece of legislation because of corporate giveaways to the coal industry!  Here’s one quick tidbit:

Want more?  Read my full press statement after the jump:

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UPDATE:  Greenpeace has just obtained an internal API memo detailing their astroturf plans.  You can read the memo and Greenpeace’s reply here.  Job “whale” done, Greenpeace!

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Most people have a good general conception of what a real grassroots movement looks like: citizens get outraged over some injustice or inequity and get organized and get active.  These campaigns are built from the bottom up.

Astroturfing a Texas Highway

Astroturfing a Texas Highway

And what happens when you don’t have a grassroots movement but want to make it look like you do?  Well, then you Astro-turf a movement in, paying hired guns to pretend to be “activists” who then show up to townhall meetings and other public forums. Fake grass- sent from top down, rather than something grown naturally from the ground up.  A lot of these protesters have been either astroturfed in or given specific instructions on how to disrupt these townhalls in an attempt to shout down opinions other than their own.

We in Texas know a thing about Astroturf, the name having originated as the name of the artificial turf used in the Houston Astrodome.  (Coincidentally, the first ever Super Bowl played on astroturf was also in Houston at SuperBowl VIII in 1974.)

Many have criticized recent astroturf campaigns on healthcare, climate change, and the infamous tea-baggers because of their coordination by Washington lobbyists and special interests.  In fact, Senator Dick Durbin (IL), the #2 Democrat in the Senate, Sunday told CNN’s John King,

“We have these screaming groups on either side. That isn’t helpful. Let’s be honest about this. . . this is clearly being orchestrated, and these folks have instructions. They come down from a Texas lobbyist in Washington.”

So what’s the difference between what Public Citizen does (educate, activate and organize citizens) and what the astroturfers do (hired guns, fomenting support based on misinformation for the purpose of financial gain)?  Many groups engage in grassroots organizing, from Public Citizen to the League of Conservation Voters to the NRA, and use their membership to engage in activism, and some of this leadership comes from our paid staff in DC or Austin, etc.  However, Public Citizen has a long history of never accepting donations from corporations or government grants, meaning we can always clearly represent only the interests of our membership without any conflicts of interest.

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, these atroturf campaigns are actually schilling for major corporate interests who have a financial stake in climate change, health insurance, etc.  The most glaring example is ACCCE, the coal industry group that represents 48 of the largest coal electricty utilities in the US with a combined net revenues last year of nearly $200 billion.    ACCCE’s mission is to sell their false claims of clean coal technology.  Haven’t heard of ACCCE?  Well, maybe it’s because they used to be called “Americans for Balanced Energy Choices” but decided to “rebrand” since it became obvious that “balanced” energy choices meant all coal all the time.

Their ads became so ridiculous they became parodied like this, in this commercial from Oscar Winners Joel and Ethan Coen:

Anyway, they’re up to their old Orwellian tricks again.

In the weeks before the House voted on the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES),  ACCCE’s lobbyists forged letters to Congress, claiming to be representatives of minority and environmental justice groups such as NAACP.  (A huge tip of the hat to to Kate Sheppard at Grist who has been following this very closely- also follow Kate on Twitter for the best enviro updates this side of @ClimateHaiku)

Even more amazing was that these letters claimed that enacting climate legislation would hurt low-income communities, even though the national NAACP (and many, many other social justice groups) had come down in support of ACES.  No word yet how many fake letters they sent to members of Congress pretending to be average constituents, rather than important community members who could be easily verified, and we will probably never know the extent of the fraud they have perpetrated.

That is Astroturfing, my friends.

Another egregious example, coming soon to the theater near you, is that the American Petroleum Institute and National Association of Manufacturers along with other flat-earth anti-climate change legislation groups are teaming up to host townhall-style meetings in 20 key states to attempt to influence the passage of the climate bill in the Senate (see articles here and here).  So, the deep, deep pockets of big oil and big business are trying to buy themselves a grassroots movement.  Will they have any luck?

And then, as a corollary to astroturfing, we have the local example of Austin’s Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who has gained a lot of media attention because of the angry throngs showing up to mob him and yell “Just Say No!” to health care reform.

Depending on your view of Doggett, doggett supermanDoggett Devilyou may have shown up to his previous townhalls to lambaste, lampoon, or lavish praise on him.  I have been to these neighborhood office hours before to speak with Congressman Doggett (he is, after all, my Representative in Washington) and I have never seen anything like what happened two weeks ago.  Most people show up to politely engage the Congressman about a (more…)

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