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Oil Industry Plans Rallies, Bulks Up Advocacy Effort

The oil industry, its reputation soiled by the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, will stage rallies across the country in the coming weeks aimed at whipping up opposition to proposed drilling regulations.

Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, announced Tuesday that the industry trade group will take the lead in organizing the advocacy campaign, starting with three rallies in Texas on Sept. 1. Those events in Houston, Beaumont and Corpus Christi — the heart of the oil industry — will be followed by rallies in Ohio, Illinois, Colorado and New Mexico.

The rallies, which will be underwritten with the help of local energy and business groups, will be accompanied by a paid television, radio and print campaign.

Gerard, in a conference call with reporters, said the effort is aimed at amplifying concerns that legislation being considered by Congress in response to the spill would result in increased taxes and hardships for the industry.

The industry has been particularly opposed to a proposal to lift the liability cap for oil spill cleanups and the Obama administration’s moratorium on deep-water drilling. While Democratic leaders have vowed to rush through oil spill legislation, the Senate left town for August recess without acting on the measure, meaning it will have to take it up in September.

The API came under criticism last year when it orchestrated a similar public relations effort against climate change legislation. At the time, environmental and liberal advocacy groups said the campaign was not truly a grass-roots affair because the API was encouraging its member energy company employees to attend the rallies and town hall meetings.

Gerard, however, said that upcoming events were being sponsored not just by energy companies but by a wide range of local groups such as Farm Bureau affiliates. And he said that “we have always encouraged our employees to engage in political activity.”

Gerard would not say how much industry was budgeting for the campaign. He said the states were chosen “to give us some diversity, some broader reach.” Texas, New Mexico and Colorado have large oil industry operations, while Ohio and Illinois are major manufacturing centers, he said.

Most of the states also have a number of competitive Senate and House races this fall. Gerard said the API was not getting directly involved in campaign activity, focusing its activities on education and outreach.

The API has increased its lobbying efforts in Washington in response to the spill. Its lobbying expenditures almost doubled in the second quarter this year to $2.3 million, compared with $1.3 million the first quarter, according to the most recent disclosure reports with Congress.

However, the API may not report the entire extent of its lobbying activity because it has chosen a method of reporting to Congress that does not require it to report state-level and grass-roots efforts.

BP cited the API’s more narrow lobbying reporting requirements when it filed an amendment to its lobbying reports for the first quarter of this year. The amended report reduced BP’s lobbying expenditures for the first quarter from $3.5 million to $1.6 million. A company official said the reduction was due to a change in the reportable dues the company paid to the API.

Some organizations, most notably the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have chosen a more expansive reporting method that includes their grass-roots activity, including advocacy advertising.

The API beefed up its advocacy team recently by bringing on new staffers who have worked for business or conservative groups. The trade group tapped Eric Wohlschlegel, who previously worked for the chamber, to be director of media relations. It hired Carlton Carroll, who worked for the American Forest & Paper Association and before that the Bush administration, to be media relations representative. It also hired Conrad Lass to be senior director of federal relations. He previously worked at the Electric Power Supply Association. The API also tapped Brian Johnson to be to be senior tax policy adviser. He had previously worked for Americans for Tax Reform.

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