With the Biden administration’s US$3.5-trillion climate legislation hanging in the balance in the U.S. Congress, fossil lobbyists and environmental justice groups are duking it out via Facebook ads.
Appearing on Facebook “millions of times a week,” writes The New York Times, are ads that “take aim at vulnerable Democrats in Congress by name, warning that the $3.5 trillion budget bill—one of the Biden administration’s biggest efforts to pass meaningful climate policy—will wreck the United States economy.”
What those ads do not say is that the bill contains measures that could do another type of economic harm: specifically, harm to the balance sheets of the fossil companies that are bankrolling them.
A key player in the Facebook offensive against any effort to rein in the fossils is Energy Citizens, a front group created by the American Petroleum Institute (API) that succeeded in thwarting an earlier congressional effort to get a carbon cap and trade plan off the ground. [Surely the name couldn’t be a coincidence?—Ed.]
Citing advertising data analyzed by the London-based climate denial tracker InfluenceMap, the Times reports that API “has spent almost half a million dollars to run hundreds of ads attacking the bill since August 11.” The ads, “which include at least 286 that targeted individual members of Congress, have been viewed at least 21 million times.”
Among those targeted is Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA). Ads showing Houlahan’s picture front and centre warn that “tax hikes on U.S. energy producers is equal [sic] to risking U.S. energy jobs,” with viewers exhorted to “Call Rep. Houlahan now!”
The Energy Citizens/API ads are not uniformly set to attack mode, however. One of them instructs Facebook users to “help us thank Senator Joe Manchin for being a champion of American made energy.” The Times notes that Manchin (D-WV) “has received more campaign donations from the oil, coal, and gas industries than any other senator.”
InfluenceMap senior analyst Jake Carbone confirmed the huge reach and potential impact of the ads.
“They’re getting millions of views,” he said. “Even if just a tiny percentage of the people who view those ads actually end up contacting the representative, that’s still going to be a lot of calls.”
Working to counter API’s influence and call out members of Congress for voting against Biden’s climate bill are environmental groups like the League of Conservation Voters and Climate Power. By their own account, they’ve “spent $3.2 million on digital ads since August,” notes the Times.