Jul 13, 2018

Exxon's climate move is very Exxon

Ben Geman, author of Generate

Exxon said yesterday that it won't renew its membership in the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a move that follows a dispute over climate policy but comes years after several other major oil companies left the group.

Driving the news: According to several reports, in late 2017 Exxon was among the companies that opposed and helped defeat a draft ALEC resolution attacking the Obama-era "endangerment finding" that said greenhouse gases threaten humans — a conclusion that provides the legal underpinning of regulations.

The intrigue: Exxon declined to explain why it's leaving ALEC, which brings together companies and conservative state lawmakers. But nor did the company push back on reports that linked it to the recent debate.

My thought bubble: That's a pretty Exxon way of approaching a climate topic. The company is less outspoken on global warming in general than some of its peers, including Shell, BP and Equinor.

  • Consider that Exxon supports taxing carbon emissions and is among the corporate founding members of Climate Leadership Council, a nonprofit group pushing a CO2 tax plan that would return the revenues to the public.
  • However, while Exxon supports a tax, there's no evidence that the company actually lobbies lawmakers to implement one.

What they're saying: "If I know one thing about Exxon, it's that the company never wants to be seen to bow to pressure," said Andrew Logan, oil and gas director for the sustainable investor advocacy group Ceres.

  • "So even though this clearly was about climate change — what else could it be about? — admitting that would be seen by leadership as a sign of weakness," he told Axios.

What's next: The move will hardly end green group pressure on Exxon over climate. For instance, the Environmental Defense Fund welcomed Exxon's move and also noted the company's recent pledge to cut emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane. EDF's Ben Ratner said via a statement:

"Now companies must follow through on these steps by taking concrete action, including by defending EPA's finding that methane emissions from the oil and gas sector endanger public health and welfare, and by opposing efforts to weaken federal and state policies that secure reductions of these potent pollutants."

One level deeper: Several major corporations have abandoned ALEC in recent years, but their exit styles vary. Shell explicitly cited differences over climate when it bailed in 2015, but BP, when announcing its departure that year, didn't offer a reason.

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