About a month ago, a strange email hit the inboxes of many congressional staffers. It was an invitation to an ‘Executive Forum’ on climate and energy policy hosted by the American Petroleum Institute. What was strange about this invitation was the sender of the email and the co-host of the policy forum: Newsweek magazine. The event is scheduled for today at 4pm.

Greenpeace’s Executive Director Phil Radford, understandably, took issue with this when the event was announced:

At present, the panel’s only member is American Petroleum Institute (API) President Jack Gerard.As you know, Mr. Gerard is the nation’s top registered lobbyist for Big Oil. API and its biggest member, ExxonMobil, have aggressively lobbied against global warming policy solutions that will inevitably limit global consumption of oil. API and its members have spent tens of millions of dollars over the past decade alone on propaganda efforts and front groups to undercut public confidence in the wide and deep global scientific consensus that global warming is real, that human consumption of fossil fuels is driving it, and that the problem is a serious threat to America and the rest of the world.

Greenpeace was not alone in its concerns:

"You’re selling access," said Edward Wasserman, Knight professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. "Newsweek is using its reputation as a great news organization to convene these officeholders to talk about public policy. Then it’s renting out a space at the table for one of its customers who would not be at the table if not for giving money to Newsweek."

Upping the ante before today’s big event, Greenpeace called for the event to be canceled and issued the following statement:

“Big Oil is buying access to our elected leaders by paying Newsweek to host this forum, and it must be called off,” Radford said. “Gerard and API will stop at nothing to stall progress on clean energy and climate solutions. I’m amazed Newsweek is endangering its reputation by renting its banner and top pundit to Big Oil. This forum is pay-to-play propaganda.”

In response to this, Newsweek’s Howard Fineman provided EnviroKnow with the following statement via email:

Rep. Ed Markey, the chief sponsor of the House cap-and-trade bill and a leading environmental advocate, is a full participant in the open, on-the-record discussion with no control by API over the questions or flow. Dem Sen Byron Dorgan is also participating and will reflect various views in Dem caucus. Rep Fred Upton, who opposed the House bill, will also participate. I see nothing wrong with an open, on-the-record balanced discussion like this. Newsweek has a long tradition of enviro reporting, including our annual green issue.

We’ll have more on this after tonight’s event.

Update: Talking Points Memo has now picked up this story.

Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson

Josh Nelson is a blogger, activist, and avid news junkie. He is currently the Manager of New Media at a Washington, DC area PR/Communications firm. In his spare time he enjoys arguing on the Internet, spending time with good people and talking politics. He can be reached at josh.nelson.dc@gmail.com.

Josh blogs about sustainability and politics at EnviroKnow.