Environmental Groups Launch Exxon Boycott

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Some of the nation's largest environmental and progressive launch a campaign urging consumers and investors to stop doing business with Exxon-Mobil, the world's second-largest oil company. This is a new strategy for the environmental movement based partly on the recognition that in Washington, their lobbyists don't have much of a voice.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Some of the nation's largest environmental and progressive organizations today launch a campaign targeting the ExxonMobil Corporation. They're urging consumers and investors to stop doing business with ExxonMobil, which is the world's second-largest oil company. This is a new strategy for the environmental movement, based partly on the recognition that in Republican-controlled Washington, its lobbyists don't have much of a voice. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY reporting:

The anti-Exxon Alliance was unveiled this morning. Among its members are groups with hundreds of thousands of followers--the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, the Defenders of Wildlife, plus MoveOn.org and the US Public Interest Research Group, or US PIRG. Gene Karpinski, president of US PIRG, laid out the strategy against ExxonMobil.

Mr. GENE KARPINSKI (President, US PIRG): We're asking citizens not to buy their gas, not to invest in their stocks and not to work for them.

OVERBY: The alliance faults ExxonMobil on four counts. First, dragging its feet on developing renewable energy and also financing scientific research that played down the threat of global warming. Exxon is the only big energy company still in the Arctic Power Consortium that promotes oil exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR. And Exxon is still fighting a $4 billion penalty for punitive damages dating from the Exxon Valdez oil tanker accident in 1989. The alliance says ExxonMobil is moving energy policy backwards, not forward.

At Exxon headquarters in Irving, Texas, spokesman Tom Cirigliano said Exxon has funded an array of scientific studies. He suggested that other oil companies will come back to ANWR if the drilling starts. Overall, he said, the environmentalists' attack today isn't based on facts and it isn't news.

Mr. TOM CIRIGLIANO (ExxonMobil Spokesman): I think a number of environmental groups recognizing the fact that we're not afraid to say what we believe or what we think we've discovered through sound science, see us as a threat. They know we don't play the political game.

OVERBY: But there's another agenda at work here, too. Environmental groups have been able to block legislation they oppose in Washington--for instance, to allow oil drilling in ANWR--but with oil industry men as president and vice president, and Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress, environmentalists are afraid their luck is running thin. The anti-Exxon campaign is a way to open another front in the battle. Rodger Schlickheisen is president of the Defenders of Wildlife.

Mr. RODGER SCHLICKHEISEN (President, Defenders of Wildlife): Going after ExxonMobil is the rational thing to do, because they are the enemy here, trying to influence the White House and the Congress to vote the wrong way on these issues.

OVERBY: Jeffrey Berry is a political scientist at Tufts University. He studies the way interest groups operate, and he says this effort outside of Washington makes sense.

Mr. JEFFREY BERRY (Tufts University): Lobbying organizations are most effective when they can adapt to changing circumstances. Conservative citizen groups did this during the Clinton years.

OVERBY: The conservatives did it by focusing on spreading their messages through the media. They key is persistence.

Mr. BERRY: For it to work, it has to be sustained and it has to be big.

OVERBY: Basically, Berry said, the environmental groups have to become an absolute thorn in the side of ExxonMobil, something they're having only mixed success doing in a capital dominated by the Republican Party. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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