The Wrong Direction

I’m back in Washington, DC this week; Tuesday evening I flipped on the radio to listen to President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan. Clearly, there are no good options available, but the choice Mr. Obama’s made seems worse than it needs to be.

The Afghan war is an oil war. The connection is not as clear as it is in Iraq, but if oil is removed from the equation, the US would have little interest in the Muslim world and vice versa. Absent that mutual interest, Islamic militants wouldn’t be attacking the US.

Earlier Tuesday, in the Mike Mansfield Room of the US Senate, Newsweek magazine presented an “executive forum” called “Climate and Energy Policy: Moving?” The forum was “co-presented” by the American Petroleum Institute, a/k/a API, a/k/a the Oil Lobby.

Newsweek, it should be noted, is owned by the same company as the Washington Post and yes, these are hard times for the news business. They respond by selling themselves to the highest bidder and no one should be surprised that oil companies bid highest. (How much did API pay? Newsweek won’t say, but if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it.)

The event – although held in the Capitol – was not open to the public, but was free for journalists and Congressional staff. Moderated by Newsweek’s Howard Fineman, the panel was comprised of API’s President Jack Gerard, Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Congressmen Ed Markey (D-MA) and Fred Upton (R-MI) and Newsweek Senior Editor Rana Foroohar.

I wasn’t there, but I spoke to some folks who were. The first question from the audience was for Mr. Gerard: “How are you, the head of the oil lobby, qualified to speak about climate change?”

His answer? Money. (Well, what did you expect?) Mr. Gerard claimed that 9.2 million Americans rely on the oil industry for their jobs. He claims the oil industry has spent $58 billion dollars “addressing climate change,” which he says is “more than the federal government has spent.” Then he spoke about how we need to burn coal.

Neither Mr. Fineman nor Ms. Foroohar nor any of the journalists present followed up to ask Mr. Gerard exactly what that number means. How was the money spent? Over what period? How does that compare to the record earnings the oil industry posted in recent years? How much of that qualified for tax write-offs for the oil industry? I guess we’ll never know. These are hard times for the news business, but you can’t blame it all on the Internet.

The API distributed a piece of … uh, “literature” at the event that repeated Mr. Gerard’s claim of 9.2 million jobs dependent on oil. It listed “just some of the jobs,” including accountants (someone’s gotta count those profits), bank tellers (someone’s gotta throw those bundles of cash in the vaults) and lawyers (oh boy!). It also includes chefs, cooks (not sure how they distinguish between those two) day care providers, librarians, nurses, painters (artists didn’t make the list) and valets.

Valets? Valet parking attendants, surely, but valets? Like butlers? Gentlemen’s gentlemen? Mr. French and Jeeves? I guess if you work for the American Petroleum Institute, you have a better chance of employing a valet than the rest of us.

The other side of the sheet, where the rubber meets the road, had more substantive copy. Here are the headings:

This is about jobs.
This is about new taxes threatening your job.
This is about new taxes hurting our economy.
This is about higher energy taxes hurting your wallet.
This is about protecting and growing jobs.
This is about a better way forward.

A careful read of the API document reveals not one word about global warming. “Climate and Energy Policy: Moving?” Yes, in the wrong direction.

© Mark Floegel, 2009

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