Tomorrow morning at the Cajundome in Lafayette, Louisiana, the Rally for Economic Survival, a gathering featuring everyone from Governor Bobby Jindal to citizen activists, intends to give “a united voice to Louisiana citizens impacted by the federal moratorium on deepwater drilling.” Rally organizer Gifford Briggs, a vice-president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA), says the idea for the rally came from regular folks. “A group of concerned citizens came to us talking about their concerns with what’s going on with the moratorium,” he told me. “They didn’t necessarily have the financial capability or the organization to be able to orchestrate and make it happen, and that’s where we came in.”
Yet Briggs was hard-pressed to elaborate on the rally’s grassroots ties. At first he said the idea had come from “an engineer and his wife and family” and Ewell Smith, the Executive Director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. But when I called Smith, he gave me a different story. “The Louisiana Oil and Gas Association approached me,” he said. “A friend of mine did an introduction to some of the folks in the industry, and the next thing you know they were reaching out to me to speak at this event and asked me to coordinate putting it together.”
“Well, I mean, you know, that may have been the case,” Briggs replied when I called him back. “It happened sort of so fast.” He added that the idea for the rally came out of a meeting with 30 people held at LOGA’s Baton Rouge office. But he was still confident that the petroleum engineer, CJ McDonald, and somebody named Becky Plummer had raised the idea of a rally before LOGA did. I was unable to reach either of them for comment.
Perhaps not coincidentally, LOGA’s rally looks a lot like the “citizen” rallies against climate change legislation that the American Petroleum Institute organized last year through its front group, Energy Citizens. The Energy Citizens website promotes the Rally for Economic Survival and ties the Gulf spill to the threat of higher taxes on oil companies. “[T]his tragedy is being exploited to undermine realistic energy policies that would benefit our nation,” says an Energy Citizens email sent to its followers last week. “As only one example, some policymakers are attempting to levy billions of dollars in new taxes on America’s energy companies—taxes that could impact every American industry employee, and every American energy consumer.”
That LOGA sees the need to cover its tracks in Louisiana, a black-blooded oil state where even fishermen oppose the drilling moratorium, illustrates the unprecedented unpopularity of the oil industry. If it’s going to win over national politicans and media, it’ll need to do more than throw a party for itself.