Beware Fossil Fuel Industry “Astroturf” Campaigns!

Letterhead with logos for Western States Petroleum Association and Levanta Tu Voz

Raise your voice, but not like this!  The original Levanta Tu Voz press release reveals who is truly represented by this campaign.

Levanta Tu Voz is a public relations campaign organized by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA).  Its website states, “Latino families can’t afford a rushed transition to electric.  It’s not fair to our community and families, struggling with inflation.  It costs too much, is too fast and too soon.  Let’s make our voices heard.”  With testimonials, photos and videos, this campaign is saturating major social media platforms with messaging that makes it seem like a majority of Latino Californians are against recently-passed legislation to phase out petroleum-powered vehicles.

This carefully-crafted propaganda perfectly fits the definition of “astroturf,” a cheeky term used by community organizers to describe fake grassroots campaigns.  We must admit that it does this really well – the website and social media posts are slick, emotionally engaging, and primarily target real fears of financial hardship.  But it doesn’t take much digging before we see past the surface level images of brown faces and hard-working families to realize that this campaign is all about preserving fossil fuel infrastructure and auto sales.

The truth is that this campaign is based on a malicious divide and conquer strategy, framing the pursuit of fossil fuel phaseout as a racial conflict.  It thereby neutralizes environmental justice communities’ well-established position on what is unhealthy and undesirable, confusing good and bad as it encourages people of color to “raise your voice” but directs them exactly how to raise their voice–by advocating for the outcomes desired by petrochemical producers.

WSPA is an industry front group, ostensibly a “non-profit” but explicitly “dedicated to ensuring that Americans continue to have reliable access to petroleum and petroleum products.”  Although they claim that they represent “more than 150,000 men and women who have proudly powered the western states since 1907,” that very statement should set off your scam-alert red flags.  No men or women have been on the job from 1907 until 2023–only “corporate persons” remain in the economy over many generations.  The members of WSPA include Chevron, Exxon, Shell, and other huge petroleum extraction and distribution companies, and it is the interests of these corporations that are pushed by campaigns like Levanta Tu Voz.  Their stance on climate change includes the assumptions that “fossil fuels will continue to play a significant role in the world’s energy mix well into the future,” that “climate policies should be technology neutral and fuel neutral,” and that “market-based approaches–such as a cap and trade program or a carbon tax –outperform command and control measures from an environmental and economic perspective.”  This last statement benefits from a little unpacking.  It means, in essence, that WSPA believes that corporations should be the decision-makers regarding how to reduce emissions and transition to a carbon-free economy, not governments, and even less so communities.

We oppose WSPA unequivocally because it exists solely for the purpose of maintaining petroleum industry power and profits.  A brief review of public statements reveals opposition to taxes on windfall profits (oil companies’ recent profits have shattered historical records in the wake of COVID and the war in Ukraine), claims that higher wages “hurt the economy” (that age-old lie that overly-pampered workers are the cause of inflation, rather than the aforementioned record profits), and grumbling that Washington’s new cap and trade carbon tax system is “too expensive” (the intention of this kind of program is, of course, to disincentivize carbon emissions by making them more costly).

One specific aspect of this disinformation campaign that we loudly decry is the stance against public transit.  We also insist that more personal electric vehicles are not a viable solution, but for completely different reasons.  The manufacture of personal vehicles is unsustainable, using massive amounts of fossil fuels in the production of steel and plastics, industries that harm environmental justice communities.  Our streets become clogged with parked cars and traffic jams, and vast areas covered by concrete and asphalt act as heat sinks, further harming our communities.  The consequences of the planned obsolescence profit model include even more burdens on our communities in the process of recycling and disposal (EVs will become especially harmful as battery recycling facilities increase), and workers dependent on cars to get to the job are compelled to take out costly loans for apparently state-of-the-art vehicles that wear out after only 150,000 miles, or families anxiously watch their savings drain away into frequent and increasingly expensive repairs on their old clunkers.

Instead of more single-family cars, we advocate for a nation-wide deployment of emission-free public transit systems, as well as a build-up of natural environments in urban and rural communities.  If local, state and federal governments reduce the need for personal vehicles by providing widespread free public transit and access to cooler, greener, healthier spaces, then every community will see immediate benefits.  Everyone, that is, except for WSPA members and automakers–the biggest beneficiaries of the current system and this campaign.  So let’s raise our voices for real solutions, and push back against this corporate propaganda.