Big Oil: Masters of Deception and Inhumanity

The oil industry has hit a new low in cooking the numbers to stir up unwarranted fears that tighter ozone standards will negatively impact the economy.

An oil refinery looms over the west side of Port Arthur, TX.
An oil refinery looms over the west side of Port Arthur, TX. (Eric Kayne for Earthjustice)

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Last week, the American Petroleum Institute—the primary lobbying group for the oil and gas industry—hit a new low in its use of deceptive advertising.

The lobbyists launched a huge advertising campaign throughout the country aimed at stopping the EPA from doing its job, which is protecting the public from unsafe levels of pollution.

Right now, the EPA is considering setting a more protective ozone standard, which would limit the amount of ozone, a greenhouse gas, that states can allow into the air. This is not something the agency does because federal bureaucrats woke up and decided they wanted to write hundreds of pages of new regulations. Devising rules to protect public health is their job.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review up-to-date scientific and medical literature every five years to help determine what levels of ozone, also called smog, are unsafe. The problem: Big Oil sees that critical mission as a threat to its bottom line, despite its billions in profit, and so it has pulled out all the stops to kill the proposal.

Ozone, created when exhaust from factories, power plants, cars and trucks mix in sunlight, is a dangerous pollutant that causes asthma attacks and worsens other breathing illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. To put it simply, ozone kills. That’s why we hear all those smog alerts during summertime weather reports—when ozone levels are high, those with asthma or other breathing illnesses cannot play, work or exercise safely outdoors.

To Big Oil and lobbyists for other major polluters, like the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), a tougher standard could mean having to spend money on pollution reduction technology to limit the smog they spew into the air. And they’d rather that American families foot the bill for emergency medical room care, asthma medicine or missed days of work and school than to have to cough up some of their profits.

It’s for that reason that they’re committed to spending enormous sums of money to defeat a more stringent standard. And they’re pushing every elected official that they’ve bought off through campaign contributions to come out against a stronger standard.

The EPA has said that the current ozone standard of 75 parts per billion is unsafe and has proposed lowering it to somewhere between 65-70 ppb. A standard of 65 ppb would save some 4,300 lives each year and prevent nearly 1 million asthma attacks, EPA analysis shows.

Big Oil can’t say that people’s lives and health don’t matter. So they’re using fear mongering about the stronger standard’s impacts on jobs, the economy and families by cooking up numbers.

Fiction for Big Oil is always more effective than the truth.

But don’t take my word for it. Frank Ackerman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology lecturer and economist told Media Matters that the huge jobs losses and economic impacts cited by NAM, which Big Oil relies on, were based on “fraudulent” calculations.

Similarly, NYU’s Michael Livermore said these lobbyists calculated costs “in an insane way,” noting that they based the costs of pollution reduction for ozone on the cost of pollution reduction from the “cash for clunkers” economic stimulus program. And the two have nothing to do with each other. It’s like comparing the costs of my monthly bills and debt with the debt of Donald Trump. What does one have to do with the other? Nothing.

But when you have companies for whom profits outweigh concerns about human life, the truth and people’s health don’t matter much. Big Oil cares nothing about clean air and nothing about public health. They care only about amassing more wealth. It’s profits over people for these peddlers of death.

Big Oil ignores the fact that the economy has tripled since the Clean Air Act became law in 1970 and air pollution has reduced some 70 percent. They ignore the billions in healthcare savings, which EPA estimates will outweigh the costs of new standards.

Fortunately, public health and environmental groups are committed to strengthening the current standard. And the EPA has a wealth of scientific data on its side that support better protection from air pollution. So while Big Oil and their lackeys, like Sen. James Inhofe, (R-Okla) who get paid to toot the horn for the industry are doing they’re dirty work, they’re encountering a major fight from those who are truly battling for clean air.

A version of this blog ran in the Huffington Post.

Based in Washington, D.C., Keith is the National Communications Strategist for Partnerships and Intersectional Justice.

Established in 1989, Earthjustice's Policy & Legislation team works with champions in Congress to craft legislation that supports and extends our legal gains.