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How BP scouted about for a PR counterattack

THE FINANCIAL TIMES
The lobbying efforts BP planned as it fended off tougher emissions controls at its troubled Texas City refinery were so sweeping that staffers were assigned to get involved with boy scout groups and the local rodeo, according to internal company documents.

The strategy is set out in a series of internal BP emails and presentations to executives, as well as a 47-page draft of an "Advocacy Strategy", copies of which have been seen by the FT.

BP is not alone in an industry known for extensive government lobbying, but its efforts offer an insight into how the British company successfully lobbied against tighter environmental controls by state regulators, saving up to $US150 million in monitoring and equipment upgrades prior to the fatal Texas City refinery explosion in 2005.

Fifteen people were killed and more than 500 injured in and around the refinery in the blast, which regulators called the worst industrial accident in a decade. The US Government has empanelled a grand jury to determine whether to bring criminal charges against the company and/or its officers for the explosion.

The Advocacy Strategy - dated May 29, 2003 - explains how BP staff were to be assigned to employees at the state regulator, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

BP employees were to attend small public meetings with their assigned TCEQ staffer in order to build close relationships, and make sure they went to any BP meeting where that staffer was present. They were to "meet with the person at least annually for lunch or other close encounter"; and send a follow-up note after any one-on-one meeting or facility visit.

BP aimed to host either a TCEQ Commissioner or the executive director for a plant tour at least annually, according to the document. Those in BP's health, safety and environment office were to visit the regional TCEQ office at least twice per year, and BP environmental engineers were told to establish a relationship with state regulatory permit writers, corrective action project managers or their respective counterparts with periodic contact.

Everyone from county judges and fire chiefs to state representatives and air permit engineers were on the list of people that staffers were assigned to woo.

The effort was so comprehensive that BP staffers were assigned community involvement opportunities ranging from the Boy Scouts of America, and the high school business club of junior achievement, to Habitat for Humanity, and the Galveston fair and rodeo.