Big Oil holding 'town halls' on climate bill

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Following in the footsteps of the corporate-backed protest movement against health care reform, a group founded and funded by business interests opposed to regulating greenhouse gas pollution is planning a series of rallies to oppose the climate legislation being considered by Congress.

The Wall Street Journal reports that EnergyCitizens -- an astroturf alliance funded by the American Petroleum Institute -- is holding rallies in 20 states over the August congressional recess. Other groups that are part of the alliance include the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Farm Bureau. According to the paper:

In template fliers for rallies produced by ... EnergyCitizens, the public is warned that 'Climate change legislation being considered in Washington will cause huge economic pain and produce little environmental gain.'

You can see a copy of a rally flier here, and you can read a press release announcing an Aug. 18 rally in Houston here.

The rallies are aimed at scuttling the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) -- also known as the Waxman-Markey bill for its co-sponsors, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.). The bill would establish a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases and take other steps to curb climate-damaging pollution. It passed the House in June and is now being considered in the Senate.

The Houston-based oil giant ConocoPhillips has posted a list of scheduled rallies to its website. Besides Houston, other Southern cities that will be hosting these corporate-organized climate events include Greensboro, N.C. on Aug. 20; Atlanta on Aug. 22; Nashville, Tenn. on Aug. 25; Tampa, Fla. on Aug. 27; Greenville, S.C. on Aug. 31; and Richmond, Va. on Sept. 3. The events are also planned for Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Dakota. Says ConocoPhillips:

You have the opportunity to make your voice heard by attending an upcoming Energy Citizens Rally for Jobs and Affordable Energy. At the rally, you will learn more about the impact of proposed legislation and have the chance to demonstrate to lawmakers that there is widespread dissatisfaction with any proposal that will cost Americans jobs and drive up energy costs.

ACES is supported by most major environmental organizations as well as by some corporate interests, including General Electric, Dow Chemical and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. However, other corporate interests besides API and NAM oppose the bill, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Some environmental groups including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace also oppose the bill for not going far enough to rein in greenhouse gases and for being too accommodating to corporate interests.

API claims the legislation would put an unreasonable financial burden on consumers of gasoline, heating fuel and other petroleum products, and cause gas prices to rise to over $4 per gallon in today's dollars by 2035. But those claims are at odds with the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which found much more modest impacts on consumers. CBO's analysis found the bill would cost the average U.S. household only about $175 a year by 2020 while actually benefiting the poorest 20% of households by $40 a year.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Information Administration [pdf] have also published studies showing that the bill would have far more modest costs than the economic alarmists claim.

The New Republic's The Vine environmental blog offers a detailed analysis of the claims that the climate legislation would incur unreasonable costs, examining a new report on that topic from NAM. The Vine reports that NAM's analysis shows that 'reducing greenhouse-gas emissions will cause the economy to grow $8.9 trillion between now and 2030 instead of $9.5 trillion. Feel free to decide whether that downside risk is totally unacceptable or not.' Grist also looked at the NAM report here.

API's focus solely on the cost of regulating greenhouse gases also ignores the costs associated with failing to take action. A recent federal study that looked at the impacts pollution-related climate change is already having across the United Sates found that the Southeast has experienced a 2 degree F. increase in average annual temperature since 1970, and average temperatures in the region could be expected to rise by at least 4.5 degrees F. by the 2080s if nothing is done to curb emissions.

This dramatic jump in temperatures would itself result in increased costs to consumers through higher cooling bills and damages from more intense storms. The temperature increase would also hurt industries such as agriculture, while the related sea-level rise would imperil coastal communities as well as roads and other infrastructure.

As for API's claim that ACES would 'cost Americans jobs,' studies have found that the legislation would actually create 1.7 million good-paying jobs, many of them accessible to people without college degrees or high-level skills. Research has also shown that investing in clean energy creates 3.2 times as many jobs as fossil-fuel investments overall.

Wonder if the oil industry will be discussing that at its town halls?