LOBBYING:

Oil and gas group brings on former campaign, U.S. Chamber expert

As it continues an effort to reshape its message to Congress and the public, American Petroleum Institute has grabbed a communications expert who ran a presidential campaign and worked for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The oil influence group hired Linda Rozett, who's worked as communications director for the Friends of Fred Thompson organization and as senior vice president of communications for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"Linda Rozett's experience running national communications campaigns, her track record in the association community, and her knowledge of news and media are the perfect combination for API at this time," API President and CEO Jack Gerard said in a statement. "When I joined API, I promised to put in place a team that would create a nimble and dynamic organization that would advocate our industry's interests aggressively: Linda is a key part of that team."

The hire marks another big move by Gerard to restructure API's staff. Earlier this year, he nabbed Deryck Spooner, who ran Nature Conservancy's push to spur legislative action on climate change (Greenwire, Feb. 26). Spooner now heads API's grass-roots activism arm. He previously ran campaigns for labor group AFL-CIO and abortion rights organization NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Gerard in December cut 15 percent of API's staff, saying the trade group had "not been as effective as we could be in educating public officials or the public about the critical role of oil and gas in our economy. ... You will see us evolve into a more nimble, more aggressive" organization. "We're going to be aggressive in our outreach to educate the public," he said (E&ENews PM, Dec. 11, 2009).

The oil influence group, in particular, Gerard said at the time, needs to educate people about major investments the industry has made in renewable energy, and the importance of natural gas in the manufacturing sector.

"Those are the types of areas where we need to do a better job," Gerard said.

One consumer advocate said the hire is notable given the timing of the Senate crafting a climate bill.

"It's clear that the American Petroleum Institute is seeking to define energy and climate issues on their terms and get a bill that's going to accommodate their interests," said Tyson Slocum, Public Citizen's energy program director. "From a consumer and environmental point of view, accommodating their interests produces a significantly weaker product."

Slocum pointed to information leaking out of the Senate that the bill from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) could give oil refiners some sort of exemption from a carbon cap.

The API move may be tied to a need to shift how it reaches people, one analyst said.

"It's bigger than API," said Ken Green, resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute. "A lot of groups are trying to figure out how to reconfigure their communications efforts in the face of all the new outlets," including social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Groups like API need to be more effective at reaching new audiences, Green said.

Rozett most recently ran her own consulting firm, FirstWord Strategies. She has also worked for Edison Electric Institute, representing investor-owned electric utilities, and the Natural Gas Supply Association. She started at ABC News in Washington.

"I am excited by the professional opportunity ahead," Rozett said in a statement. "Few issues touch on as many of our country's challenges as energy. From job creation and economic growth, to transportation, the environment, and natural security, America relies on the oil and natural gas industry. And I am eager to join Jack Gerard in an organization that is second to none in representing its members."

Ad campaign

API also continued its outreach through ads this week.

API is running an ad in Roll Call with the headline "guess who will be paying for new energy taxes."

The group earlier this month launched TV ads now running in Washington, D.C., and 10 states.

"What would new taxes on oil and gas mean to to you?" one ad asks, followed by a woman who answers: "Well, I'm against it because it would really hurt our economy. It would take money away from businesses and stores. People would just be in more of a bind. I think it's just, it's not a good idea."

Another ad urges: "Tell Washington to say no to energy industry taxes."

The ads target President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget proposal to eliminate tax breaks for petroleum companies, API said. The Department of Energy said the plan would generate $36.5 billion over the next 10 years. The industry says it would cost companies $80 billion over the same period.