by Ash Lauth, The Vote Solar Initiative
Yesterday I sat next to $6 million dollars. I was so close to the money I could smell it.
Yup, that's right. I sat next to nearly $6 million worth of Big Oil and Baron Von Gas bribes and could smell the stink of its corruption. I was at the US House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, whose members collectively have taken $5,972,328.38* from oil and gas companies. Myself and 10 other citizens sat in on a hearing about Keystone XL (again), and when we called foul on their dirty plays, we made them sweat. Let me tell you, Big Oil B.O. is pretty offensive.
Last week when KXL was rejected, Big Oil panicked, and being frightened, it launched an all out offensive to grapple at straws. The American Petroleum Institute's new nauseating "Vote 4 Energy" ad campaign is being pushed in key election states, and API president Jack Gerard has started to use more threatening language against the president. Big Oil's friends in Congress introduced a series of heinous new bills in an effort to keep KXL alive.
One such bill is H.R. 3548 sponsored by Lee Terry of Nebraska. It would direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue a permit for the pipeline within 30 days after receiving an application. Yesterday it was its hearing.
On the heals of 350.org's "Blow the Whistle on Congress" action, folks decided to take the theme and join the hearing. Seemed like a hearing that needed referees.
We sat down in the second row, right behind the seats reserved for the folks testifying. We stuck out like sore thumbs in our ref shirts, taking up almost the entire row. Folks looked at us funny, and whispered. Some of the Representatives even went on record to welcome us, saying things like, "It's good to have some refs here to keep Washington in line."
What they thought were big government haters were actually democracy lovers, and they found out REAL quick that we were there to call out their foul plays.
The hearing began (at 8am, might I add) with opening statements and the room was electric with our presence. First up to bat was Ed Whitfield (KY), chair of the subcommittee (recipient of $220,773.54 Big Oil bucks). Whitfield waxed poetical about why the hearing was called and how it was a travesty that such a safe, profitable, and large jobs creator has been rejected.
BAM! Red flags up!
Each one of us silently shot our arms up in the air and shook our red foul-play flags. Whitfield was caught off guard and didn't know what to make of it. He lost his place and stammered a bit before he continued. He went on to say how this pipeline is indisputably in the national interest.
BAM! Red flags up again!
The second row turned red with silent waving flags above the heads of the audience. Whitfield did a double take and quickly finished his remarks before introducing the next speaker.
Later up to bat was Fred Upton (MI), chair of the larger House Energy and Commerce Committee (recipient of $263,625.00 Big Oil bucks). Upton repeated more of the same and did a stellar job of toting the industry line. We flagged him at least once a sentence. Upton had to keep his eyes on his papers instead of us. The room began to murmur.
Also there was Lee Terry (NE, recipient of $212,110.92 Big Oil bucks). Terry brilliantly parroted the American Petroleum Institute's talking points, coming off as more of an arrogant API spokesperson than elected public official. We flagged him so much that the photographer started taking pictures of us instead of the speakers.
And the list went on. John Shimkus (IL, recipient of $278,085.52 Big Oil bucks) apparently didn't know how to deal with this like an adult, so he started mocking us. His attempt at buffoonery was shot down by our stoic demeanor.
But the fun was just beginning. Eventually, the floor came to Bobby Rush (IL), who interjected by calling out Whitfield on letting folks go over time. Rush made some great comments on how KXL is nothing more than politicking and an attempt by industry to strong-arm their agenda.
BAM! Touchdown arms vaulted into the air!
The room's attention was entirely on us and Rush clearly appreciated our support. He spoke with more gusto every time we "touchdown-ed" a remark. Rush's full statement is absolutely stellar and he ends by alluding to the Republicans taking Big Oil campaign contributions. Well! That got members in such a kerfuffle that they moved to have Rush's words striken from the record!
By the time the floor got to Henry Waxman (CA), he appeared to be emboldened by our presence. Waxman launched into a tirade about the Koch brothers, their dirty influence in KXL, and their slimy money corrupting government.
BAM! Touchdowns again and again. Representatives were colluding and pages were scrambling.
Whitfield had had enough. He slammed the gavel down in the middle of Waxman's statements, stating, "The gentleman will yield!" Waxman fired back he wouldn't be cut off and continued talking. Whitfield grew angrier and commanded that Waxman could not make accusations about "upstanding" private companies in a hearing. Waxman retorted that he could and would, and continued his statement.
That's when Whitfield nearly threw a temper-tantrum and cracked the gavel down again and again, asserting, "I am the chairman." The audience was astonished at this juvenile behavior. Whitfield was rapidly losing control of the situation and quickly called for an unscheduled recess.
The second row felt pretty proud that in a matter of 15 minutes, this tired, raggedy crew of silent referees got into the heads of Big Oil and Baron Von Gas cronies so completely that they threw temper-tantrums in front of the public (and media), scrambling to keep their hearing from descending into a shouting match and stave off being upstaged by a row of red flags.
Our simple act of creative civic engagement is testimony of how easy it is to frighten Big Oil and assert people power. More than anything else, this act, along with the thousands of other acts by communities across the country, reveals Big Oil's weakness: an engaged and empowered public.
Don't fool yourself, Big Oil and Baron Von Gas - arguably the most powerful industries in the world - are scared out of their minds right now, and it's because of us; it's because of you. By being present, being engaged, mic checking, fact checking, red flagging, whatever - you are calling out these dirty liars in front of everyone. And these criminals can't stand that kind of garish spotlight.
Folks, let's get creative. We've got it in us. Let's meet Dirty Energy at every opportunity with tactics that expose their corruption and poke fun at their expense. It doesn't take a whole lot to embarrass Dirty Energy - we've seen that. So get your rag-tag crew together and keep shining the light on these corrupt clowns - we got 'em on a run!
*Source: DirtyEnergyMoney.com with data from the Center for Responsive Politics
Don't forget to check out 350.org's "Blow the Whistle" action video here.