Dec 11, 2019 - Energy & Environment

Big Oil lobby showing subtle shifts on climate change

Illustration of oil barrel with plants growing on top of lid.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The American Petroleum Institute is now supporting the ambitions of the Paris Climate Agreement and, separately, technology for capturing carbon dioxide.

Why it matters: These are subtle but important shifts reflecting the oil and natural gas industry’s reluctant and uneven embrace of climate change as a problem the government should address.

Driving the news:

  • On the Paris deal, spokesperson Ben Marter said, "API supports the ambitions of the 2015 agreement, including global action that reduces emissions and alleviates poverty around the world.”
  • When asked whether API supports the deal’s primary ambition to limit Earth's temperature rise to well below 2°C within this century, Marter said by phone: "Even though the technology does not yet exist to get us there, our companies are investing billions to get us there."
  • On carbon capture, Marter said API is lobbying for legislation pending in Congress that would encourage more of the tech.

The intrigue: Given that API is the largest and most diverse oil group, its public policies must encompass the views of its most progressive members, led by European producers, and its least progressive, such as many smaller, domestic producers and refiners.

Between the lines: The trade group is walking some fine lines here, including…

  • It doesn’t say that it supports the Paris deal itself, but the ambitions of it. That’s a subtle distinction made likely to distance itself from the extreme reductions in fossil-fuel emissions the deal implicitly calls for.
  • Current API CEO and president Mike Sommers hasn’t commented much (if at all) on the Paris deal publicly. His predecessor, Jack Gerard, made general statements about the need to address climate change when asked about the Paris deal.
  • API did not take a position on the expanded tax credit law for carbon capture when Congress was debating it a couple years ago and ultimately passed it early last year.`

One level deeper: When it comes to a carbon price, an API official says it only comments on specific legislation.

  • The group is reviewing a measure introduced by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), that would tax CO2 and return the money to citizens, according to that official.
  • That contrasts with the Natural Gas Supply Association, which publicly backed a generic carbon price last week. NGSA is far smaller and represents only producers of natural gas, the cleanest fossil fuel that would be poised to gain on such a policy priced at low to medium levels.
  • A carbon price is considered a key policy component to cutting emissions that’s nonetheless politically toxic with nearly all Republicans (and some Democrats).

What I’m watching: How Sommers handles this topic and questions about it at the group’s annual luncheon early next month.

Go deeper: Industry lobbying rifts over climate change growing

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