Op-Ed: Big Oil pushes Trump to back away from promises to rural America

Source: By Mike Carr, The Hill • Posted: Tuesday, October 31, 2017

It says something about Washington that special interest groups are outraged when an elected official has the audacity to keep a promise made to actual voters.

Groups like Big Oil are so used to getting their way that they seem genuinely shocked that Donald Trump’s EPA has moved to keep Trump’s promise to grow the amount of biofuels in our fuel supply via the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Big Oil doesn’t seem to see the irony in playing the role of entitled victim because the president’s EPA put in writing the promise Trump made to heartland voters last year. Now they’re making a cynical play to get Trump to go back on his word.

Policies that support clean energy, like the RFS, are creating thousands of solid manufacturing jobs across the country and have been particularly key for rural economies in places like Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Indiana and Ohio. While traveling through many of these states, the president was clear and consistent that, if elected, he would make good on his promise to, as The Hill put it, create “a higher ethanol mandate.”

Trump said this, presumably, because he saw first-hand the power of renewable fuels policy to create good manufacturing jobs. Perhaps big oil’s lobbyists aren’t aware that renewable energy jobs are growing at a rapid rate throughout rural America. Maybe they missed New Energy America’s report that shows clean energy beating fossil fuel in terms of jobs in 41 states. They should know that no new refinery has been built in the United States in over thirty years, but they must have missed this week’s news that the two fastest growing occupations in the United States are in clean energy. It’s these jobs in growing industries that have created strong bipartisan support for stable policies to ensure these companies continue to grow and hire workers.

Instead of investing in new jobs, however, Big Oil hides behind a small number of aging refineries in Pennsylvania to paint a picture of economic hardship. Even if that picture were accurate, it wouldn’t make sense to stop the rapid growth of a future-oriented industry to save a fading one. But in this case the answer is easier because the old refineries are doing just fine for their owners and executives, even if their success doesn’t trickle down to their employees.

Last year, for example, Delta Airlines admitted the Monroe Energy refinery it owns was purposely running at a loss in order to save the airline costs for fuel. Jeff Warmann, CEO of Monroe noted that the refinery lost roughly $10 million in the second quarter of 2016, but the decreased costs saved Delta $100 million during the same timeframe.

PBF Energy’s stock has increased in value over 30 percent in the last year, which pushed its market cap beyond $3 billion. Bloomberg estimates that CEO Thomas Nimbley was paid over $5 million in 2016.

Valero and Marathon both told investors this week that Hurricane Harvey helped propel them to “record quarterly profits… that blew past Wall Street estimates.”

And a letter to the president from nine oil state Republican senators cite comments from the president of the local steelworkers union representing works at the Pennsylvania Energy Solutions (PES) refinery as evidence that Trump should break his promise on clean energy jobs. They fail to mention that this particular refinery was already bailed out once by the Obama administration and State of Pennsylvania, and seem to have missed the fact that the same local union president noted, “We have information that the RINs might not be impacting [PES] as stated.”

The CEOs of these companies are making millions of dollars. Some, like PES, have taken bailouts by taxpayers. The shareholders and their corporate owners are making hundreds of millions of dollars from these refineries. Their own workers question the degree to which the RFS is really affecting their bottom lines.

Even so, Big Oil continues to offer these refineries as examples as to why Trump should turn his back on the people who put him in office in rural America and slow the growth of America’s clean energy economy. It just goes to show how entitled they feel and how little respect they have for the promises made by the president to the people who voted for him.

The uncertainty around the RFS slows investments and hurts job growth in rural America. The renewable energy industry is making investments, Big Oil is not — let’s give certainty to the industry delivering new jobs in rural America. The president should reject Big Oil’s complaints, and keep his word to grow renewable energy jobs across the country.

Mike Carr is the executive director of New Energy America, an organization that promotes clean energy jobs in rural America. Previously, he served as principal deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy.