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Energy and climate rallies – real or astroturf?

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Thousands rallied at a Houston theater yesterday to protest a new energy-climate bill pending in Congress. But was that "energy citizens" rally for real -- or just a bought-and-paid-for "astroturf" public relations event in the city that made the faux grass famous?

"Astroturf"campaigns that aim to mimic spontaneous grassroots public reactions -- rallies and public gatherings -- to public policy are on the rise in the late August muggy heat, many say.

Astroturf questions lurk behind news coverage of a spate of rallies often portrayed as spontaneous citizen outpourings about pending energy and climate legislation, but which may actually have much more to do with corporate PR muscle aimed at influencing policy.

During the healthcare debate, angry citizens shouting at US Senators made some speculate that some showing up for the town hall-style meetings reflected not broad public sentiment but perhaps corporate interests.

Now, even as the heated healthcare debate holds center stage, some analysts say the energy industry is taking a page from the healthcare debate playbook and creating or mobbing rallies, parades, and other events pretending to be a spectrum of concerned citizens.

Target: US senators returning home for their late-August congressional recess.

Despite signs and T-shirts, the Houston rally of more than 3,000 people – which was sponsored by a group calling itself Energy Citizens -- actually had a boatload of funding and logistical support from the oil and gas industry, according to an American Petroleum Institute (API) memo leaked late last week by the environmental group Greenpeace.

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