Downtown Houston was filled to overflowing with the city’s energy workforce recently in the nation’s first Energy Citizens rally, promoted by producers and business organizations that want to stop passage of the climate change bill now before Congress. However, some of the biggest companies declined to participate in the call to arms, and questions remain as to what the industry really wants Congress to do.

Nearly 3,500 people, many wearing yellow t-shirts that read, “I’m an energy citizen,” jammed the Verizon Wireless Theater at midday Aug. 18. The American Petroleum Institute (API), which is cosponsoring almost two dozen rallies nationwide over the coming weeks, had expected around 1,500 people. A coalition of about 15 business and conservative advocacy groups kicked off what is billed as a series of rallies throughout the country to oppose the cap-and-trade bill now before Congress.

Known as Energy Citizens, the industry and interest groups include the National Association of Manufacturers, American Farm Bureau and FreedomWorks, which is led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas.

Most of the rally attendees appeared to be employees of many of the city’s largest energy concerns. ConocoPhillips had an estimated 250 employees at the rally, spokeswoman Kristi DesJarlais told NGI. She said “five to six buses” were sent to the company “by rally organizers.”

Anadarko Petroleum Corp. also sent several buses to the event. Chevron Corp. invited its Houston-based employees and retirees to participate and also provided transportation, a spokesman told NGI in an e-mail.

“Chevron supports a national climate change program that is transparent, promotes energy efficiency and conservation measures, treats all participants fairly and protects our economy and energy security,” the spokesman said.

In addition to Houston, some other tentative sites for the rallies include Detroit; Greeley, CO; Nashville; TN; Tampa, FL; Fairfax, VA; Anchorage, AK; and Philadelphia. “We have identified 11 states with a significant industry presence, and 10 other states where we have assets on the ground. We also have attracted allies from a broad range of interests: the Chamber of Commerce and NAM, the trucking industry, the agricultural sector, small business and many others, including a significant number of consumer groups,” according to an email sent out to producer executives by API.

“The objectives of these rallies is to put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy and to aim a loud message at those states’ U.S. senators to avoid the mistakes embodied in the House climate bill and the Obama administration’s tax increases on our industry,” the e-mail stated. The Senate is scheduled in September to consider its version of the climate change bill (HR 2454), which cleared the House in late June (see NGI, June 29).

The measure seeks to cap heat-trapping greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that contribute to global warming, changing the direction of the energy industry from conventional oil, natural gas and coal to renewable fuels.

Noticeably missing from the Houston rally were employees from BP America, the largest North American gas producer. Shell Oil Co., another top gas producer, also did not encourage its employees to attend the rally. BP and Shell are members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), an environmental-business coalition that played a key role in shaping the climate bill awaiting action in Congress.

“We have expressed to API our position not to participate in the upcoming Citizen Energy rallies,” Shell spokesman Bill Tanner told NGI. “We continue to seek common ground with a variety of stakeholders and focus our conversations on policy issues involving a market-based approach to addressing climate change.

“In that regard, we have stated that we are committed to helping Congress enact a fair and effective cap-and-trade program at the lowest possible cost to consumers and the economy. This position reflects the recommendations in USCAP’s A Blueprint for Legislative Action. Our attention will remain on engaging pragmatically on the issues facing the people of America today and how we can work toward effective partnerships on this and a host of issues to progress the hard work of moving legislation on energy and our climate future.”

ConocoPhillips also is a member of USCAP, but it encouraged visitors to its website to “Act now for energy. Make your voice heard!” The company wants people to contact their representatives to oppose the cap-and-trade legislation. “Federal climate change legislation is needed,” ConocoPhillips said. “However, Waxman-Markey fell short.

“As it deliberates its own bill, the Senate must carefully review the consequences of any legislation on the economy and on ordinary Americans. Climate change legislation will result in higher direct energy costs for the typical American family. Estimates of the increased costs range from $150 to $1,000 or more per year. It also could result in a net loss of more than two million U.S. jobs each year.”

The climate change bill, according to ConocoPhillips, does not do enough to protect domestic oil refiners and the company argues that the bill should do more to keep the price of oil low for consumers. The producer also wants legislation to encourage more natural gas development, “which is nature’s cleanest fossil fuel.”

ConocoPhillips also said, “Don’t attempt to pick winners or losers among energy technologies…Legislative proposals have a tendency to pick ‘winning’ energy technologies too early, before they are fully proven at scale. We should allow technological innovation and the market an opportunity to perfect and select the best energy sources.”

USCAP, whose members include AES, Dow, Duke Energy, Exelon and FPL Group, did not respond when asked by NGI Tuesday about ConocoPhillips’ public opposition to the climate change legislation. Last week USCAP issued a statement about the costs associated with the bill before Congress.

“The United States faces a real and increasingly urgent need to transform its energy economy,” said USCAP. “Delay is no longer a viable option and enacting responsible climate and energy legislation will create economic opportunities for all Americans. Studies recently released by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Information Administration and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) show that the estimated costs associated with addressing climate change range across these three studies from $7 to $15 per month, per household. Moreover, the CBO analysis shows that lower-income households will actually see an economic benefit.

“These costs are a necessary investment in the future if the U.S. is to become the world leader in clean energy technology. American businesses stand ready to invest in a safe, secure energy future for America once there is the certainty of a national policy that puts a price on carbon and expands markets for clean energy products.”

Although the Houston theater was filled with its employees, the energy industry was not represented on stage. Drayton McLane, owner of the Houston Astros who made his fortune in the trucking business, was keynote speaker. National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) CEO Harry Alford also spoke to the overflowing crowd. The NBCC, said Alford, has been on record as opposed to cap-and-trade since 1996 when it opposed the Kyoto Treaty that led to the European emissions trading system now in place.

Perhaps looking at the health care debate that has led to testy confrontations in town halls across the country this summer, the energy industry could be attempting to tap into the populist movement to defeat the climate change legislation. But some Houston energy industry observers think the opposition is off the mark.

A spokesperson for an energy group based in Houston said it might be “difficult” to gain support from well dressed executives who may not know what it’s like to not be able to pay the bills.

“When I read that ‘energy employees’ were going to gather downtown, I had to laugh,” the spokesperson said. “Who feels sorry for them? I just don’t think they’re going about this the right way.”

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