In many of its campaigns, the API has designed its approach around the social-license model, which has meant seeking legitimation from a surprising range of allies. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, it worked with the AARP and the United Pastors Network. While lobbying for new fossil-fuel infrastructure, it has allied with the Building Trades Unions and the Farm Bureau. And in its war against importing Canadian hydropower, it has even allied with local chapters of the Sierra Club.
“Diversity is paramount,” said Tara Anderson, a former director of mobilization for API, two years ago, at a presentation on API’s strategy at the Public Affairs Council. She emphasized the importance of forming alliances with minority and citizens groups, according to her PowerPoint presentation. “Just because you disagree on one issue, doesn’t mean you will disagree on all—accept that,” the presentation said.
API sees those coalitions as core to its social-license strategy. It has backed up its push with digital advertising and local engagement. In 2018, Anderson said that API could micro-target 43 million people in every congressional district. API has spent more than $1.9 million on Facebook ads over the past two years, with the large majority of that centered on “Energy Citizens,” a sophisticated campaign to convert people into highly activated opponents of energy regulation. Since October, the campaign’s targeted Facebook ads have encouraged New Mexicans to support a state-highway bill, exhorted Pennsylvanians to reject an infrastructure bill, and endorsed President Trump’s trade deal with Mexico and Canada.
Energy Citizens had 1.6 million members in 2018, according to Anderson’s presentation. In a statement, Aronhalt, the API spokesperson, described Energy Citizens as a “growing grassroots movement of millions of Americans across the country.”
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But API has not won every fight. Last month, New Jersey passed a new $5,000 tax credit for electric cars, one of the country’s most generous. And it has failed to stop efforts to subsidize nuclear plants in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. It also lost an effort to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants in Ohio. (“Every local effort is unique since every policy proposal, bill and regulation is,” said Aronhalt. “We work to support, amend, or oppose various local, state, and federal efforts on an ongoing basis.”)
“In cooperation with API’s state petroleum councils, allied organizations, and partner trade associations, energy advocates sign up through social media [or through its website] to receive customized content to make their voice known by contacting or engaging elected officials. API facilitates the grassroots website and supports events to connect those who might be interested in energy issues in their state,” she said.