Nov 8, 2019 - Energy & Environment

Industry lobbying rifts over climate change growing

Illustration of a fissure in the ground opening up towards barrels of oil.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Lobbying divisions are rupturing across Washington as climate change worries grow and President Trump repeals policies addressing the issue.

Driving the news: Oil and gas company Total is leaving the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers due to differences over climate change policy, the French producer said Friday, following Royal Dutch Shell's move earlier this year.

One level deeper: After reviewing memberships in 30 trade associations, Total decided to leave just AFPM due to stated differences over the Paris Climate Agreement, carbon pricing and developing renewable energies, all of which Total supports.

  • An AFPM spokesman has said the group doesn't have a position on the Paris deal.

The big picture: The oil sector’s growing division — pitting European producers that are more aggressive on climate change against their American counterparts that are less so — is one of a few pressure points.

  • Automakers are fighting over what positions to take in the ongoing battle between the Trump administration and California over fuel-efficiency standards.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is engaging more on climate change due to member pressure.
  • The Portland Cement Association, America’s main lobbying group representing cement makers, recently articulated its support for a “market-based” solution due at least partly to pressure from member LafargeHolcim, one of the world’s largest cement producers, a top company official said this week.

Why it matters: Because money matters! One of the biggest reasons Washington has never passed big climate-change policy is the opposition of deep-pocketed lobbying associations.

  • To the degree these divisions result in smaller, less influential trade groups fighting climate legislation and/or in shifted positions of big groups, like the Chamber, the odds increase that Washington would pursue big climate policy.

Between the lines: AFPM, which represents oil and gas refining interests, is a narrower group compared to the far larger American Petroleum Institute.

  • In a report announcing its results of an association review Friday, Total said it was staying in API, but noted: “API’s recent support for the rollback of U.S. regulations on methane emissions raises questions for Total.”

Yes, but: Any shift in lobbying strategies will come subtly and probably unevenly. Don’t expect API or the Chamber to come out cheerleading for a carbon tax any time in the near future, but those conversations are happening privately, according to executives involved in the groups.

  • Some companies are opting to stay in larger trade groups in particular, hoping to push them toward positions that are, at least on paper, more supportive of climate policy. That’s what top officials at BP and Exxon both said earlier this year.

What I’m watching: BP and Equinor, a Norwegian oil and gas company, are both conducting formal reviews of their lobbying memberships, which could be complete as soon as early next year.

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