Mar 4, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Industry officials offer mixed messages on climate policy

A top business trade association official and the CEO of a major pipeline company said Tuesday they want the federal government to do more on climate change — but they’re not actually backing any such plans.

Driving the news: Marty Durbin, a top official at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Williams Company CEO Alan Armstrong, speaking at a Bipartisan Policy Center event Tuesday, both said they think the government should create an economy-wide policy to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

But, but, but: They don’t support any pending proposals to do that, like a carbon tax or a clean energy standard.

  • They also aren’t advocating for the government to directly regulate emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s also the primary component of natural gas.
  • The Obama administration started to regulate emissions, but President Trump is rolling that back.
“We do have a lot of [member] companies who already are clearly saying they are for a price on carbon. Well, guess what, there are a lot of others that don’t. Clearly, we don’t have consensus among the members. So we don’t support a price on carbon at the moment. We’re also not opposing one. We’re not lobbying against a carbon tax of any kind.”
— Marty Durbin, president, U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Energy Institute

Why it matters: It shows the fine line trade groups and companies are walking as they face mounting pressure from investors, the public and activists to engage on addressing climate change.

  • It also reveals how substantive support for big climate policy among some top industry officials is so far lacking despite an increase in rhetoric supporting such policy in general terms.

The context: The event, hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center (and, in full disclosure, moderated by yours truly) comes as the Senate debates the biggest energy bill in a decade.

  • The legislation boosts numerous kinds of clean technologies, but it doesn’t include any economy-wide policies or a goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Chamber, as part of a diverse coalition of interest groups that includes some environmentalists, is calling on Congress to pass it. Durbin said Tuesday he realizes this alone won’t be sufficient to tackle climate change.

Go deeper:

Go deeper