Oct 15, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Inside BP’s nascent lobbying efforts on state climate policies

Illustration of money coming out of a smokestack.

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

BP is dipping into its deep pocketbooks to help state-level climate proposals around the country.

Why it matters: Oil companies — European ones especially — have said in recent years they support climate policy, but there hasn't been much action behind the rhetoric. The fact that real lobbying efforts are underway suggests change is really afoot.

Driving the news: BP is lobbying in favor of implementing a new initiative cutting transportation emissions in the Northeast, urging Pennsylvania to join an existing interstate program in the region limiting electricity emissions, and pushing climate policy in Washington state, CEO Bernard Looney said in a recent “Axios on HBO” interview.

  • Other states where BP is actively supporting emissions-cutting proposals include Illinois, New York, Colorado and Oregon, according to a company official.
“We are doing it because even though our strategy is not predicated on policy change, our strategy is set up to benefit from such a policy change.”
— BP CEO Bernard Looney, "Axios on HBO" interview

How it works:

  • “I think they’re very interested in getting these carbon pricing programs over the finish line,” said one environmentalist who corresponds with the company and has noticed an increase in lobbying in Northeast states and elsewhere.
  • BP helped launch a new corporate coalition in late September to support the new Northeast transportation policy, called the Transportation and Climate Initiative.

But, but, but: As part of its new clean-energy strategy, BP said it would end its long-running corporate reputation campaign — which cost the company $100 million last year — and redirect it toward supporting climate policies around the world.

  • But BP is putting just $6.5 million toward campaigns advocating for state and federal climate policies this year and next, according to Geoff Morrell, a BP spokesman.
  • “We are spending millions and would gladly spend tens of millions more if there were viable net-zero policies to actively advocate for,” Morrell said. “Our spend reflects the state of play in this space.”
  • BP is supporting the European Union’s big climate policy and the United Kingdom’s plan to ban on sales of new internal combustion engine cars in 2035.

Flashback: BP spent $13 million two years ago helping defeat a ballot initiative in Washington state that would have put a price on carbon emissions, opposing it because it exempted certain industries. Looney said citing specific lobbying dollar amounts misses the point.

  • “I think what's much more important beyond whether it's $13 million or $20 million is the $5 billion that we're going to be spending each and every year on transition businesses in 2030,” Looney said.

The other side: “When you spend $13 million opposing major climate policy, it’s really hard to take you seriously on any advocacy,” said Jamal Raad, co-founder and campaign director of Evergreen Action, a nonprofit advocacy organization recently launched by former aides to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

What we’re watching: BP’s stated new lobbying posture will be put to an immediate test as states around the country step up climate policy, and especially if Joe Biden wins the White House. Washington state, for example, may pursue a fuels standard, which a company official says BP would support.

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