Hundreds of Houston-area natural gas and oil employees -- most bussed in by their bosses -- rallied on Wednesday during their lunch hours to protest the deepwater Gulf of Mexico (GOM) moratorium and to shout down possible new taxes on the industry.

Similar lunchtime rallies were held in Texas Tuesday in Corpus Christi and Port Arthur. More are scheduled across the nation in the coming weeks.

Sponsors handed out gift bags to the participants as they arrived at the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown, which included red T-shirts with various slogans that read, "Rally for Jobs Not Taxes," "We are energy nation," "I am an energy citizen," or "If you stop drilling, if you stop producing, America stops working."

Carroll Robinson of the Houston Citizens Chamber of Commerce told the raucous crowd that the energy industry makes "America run, we make America work, and they need to remember that...If you stop drilling, if you stop producing, America stops working."

A roar went through the crowd when several speakers denounced President Obama's energy policies. The president's Air Force One jet, noted one, is powered by fuel the industry produced.

"Why are we cutting off the Gulf of Mexico?" asked John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil Co. USA and now CEO of Citizens for Affordable Energy, one of the rally's sponsors. "You cut off your nose to spite your face, Mr. President."

Besides offering a lunch of hot dogs and cold drinks, there was plenty of politicking at the rally as well. Texas gubernatorial candidate Bill White, former Houston mayor, was shaking hands with members of the crowd, along with Houston Reps. Gene Green and Sheila Jackson-Lee, both Democrats. Green on Tuesday was one of 37 House members who called for the moratorium to be lifted.

"There are thousands of jobs directly connected to shallow water drilling," Green said. "At a time when the economy is still coming back from the worst recession in recent memory, we just can't afford to lose more jobs. My colleagues and I continue to share concern over this de facto moratorium and the deepwater moratorium as domestic energy production is not only vital to energy independence, but to the Gulf Coast economy."

Organizers of the rallies included the American Petroleum Institute (API), which noted that the energy industry supports more than 9.2 million domestic jobs and is responsible for 7.2% of the U.S. economy.

"Today energy citizens in Texas sent a clear signal to Congress that lawmakers should focus their efforts on reviving our economy and creating more jobs," said API CEO Jack Gerard. "U.S. unemployment is high and Americans are increasingly concerned about the slow pace of economic recovery."

The rallies, said Gerard, remind "Congress and the public of the vital role that oil and natural gas play, and will continue to play, in our nation's energy and economic future. We must ensure that policies are not implemented that would jeopardize jobs, threaten our nation's energy security and limit our ability to produce the energy this country needs."

A New Orleans U.S. District judge on Wednesday denied the government's second attempt to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the moratorium on deepwater drilling in the GOM (see related story).

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