The oil lobby is already finding fault with Biden’s new climate plan

Source: By Dino Grandoni with Paulina Firozi, Washington Post • Posted: Thursday, July 16, 2020

The oil and gas sector is not thrilled with several parts of Joe Biden’s new climate plan.

Petroleum industry representatives are arguing the former vice president’s plan to mandate a transition from gas-fired power to renewables will hasten the ongoing decline of union jobs and add to the strife the industry is already feeling due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Former vice president Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event Tuesday in Wilmington, Del. (Reuters/Leah Millis)

But at the same time, oil and gas industry representatives are choosing their words carefully, preparing for a new political landscape if Biden wins the presidential election, and aiming to still have a seat at the table when it comes to crafting federal climate policy.

On Tuesday, Biden laid out his ideas for addressing the dangerous buildup of climate-warming pollution as he continues to poll ahead both nationally and in key swing states against President Trump, beset by the still out-of-control viral spread and the resulting economic recession.

“We’re really looking for areas to work with the Biden campaign. We’re going to be looking for areas to work with the Trump administration, and with both parties in Congress,” said Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s biggest lobbying group.

“The one constant is: We are going to work with whoever the policymakers are that are in charge,” he said.

Biden’s climate plan would require electric utilities to adopt cleaner energy. The oil and gas industry doesn’t like that mandate.

The presumptive Democratic nominee is embracing a 15-year timeline for a 100 percent clean-electricity standard to cut climate-warming emissions from power generation.

To meet that aggressive goal, he wants to impose requirements on electricity providers to get all of their energy from cleaner sources — including wind, solar, nuclear or hydroelectric stations — by 2035.

Such a plan would cut considerably into gas-fired power plants’ share of the electricity mix, which today constitutes more than a third of the market. Only gas-fired generators that captured their carbon dioxide — still a fledgling technological endeavor — would qualify under Biden’s clean-energy standard.

The lobby group is arguing that the renewable energy sector largely lacks union representation, and that Biden’s proposed transition would result in lower pay for blue-collar workers.

Pointing to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, API notes the average annual pay for gas and oil extraction workers was $91,000 in 2018 — about twice that for solar panel installers and about 60 percent higher than the mean salary for a wind turbine technician.

The Trump campaign echoed that sentiment about union jobs. Hogan Gidley, the campaign’s national press secretary, called Biden’s plan “a socialist manifesto” that would “eliminate jobs in the coal, oil or natural gas industries.”

Kathleen Sgamma, head of the Western Energy Alliance, likened Biden’s clean-energy proposal to a “government fiat,” noting the new plan was born in part out of a task force made up of allies of Biden and liberal firebrand Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“Like the Green New Deal, the Biden-Sanders task force recommendations generate alarmism about climate change while envisioning a radical remaking of the energy sector and hence, the economy,” Sgamma said.

API also opposes a key piece of Biden’s plan to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector — a rebate for drivers who trade in traditional internal-combustion vehicles powered by their products for electric ones.

Macchiarola argued that most of the benefit of such a subsidy would go to high-income car buyers.

“It’s bad energy policy, it’s bad economic policy,” he said.

Despite the criticism, Biden’s plan is garnering praise from workers’ groups.

Biden won over several labor unions by including in his climate plan requirements on developers to pay prevailing wages and use union workers.

That and other moves let Biden mend the rift that had developed between labor unions and advocates of the Green New Deal.

Last year, Lonnie Stephenson, head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, came out in opposition to that aggressive 10-year plan from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to cut climate-warming emissions, calling it “not achievable or realistic.”

But this week, the electrical workers’ union boss sang the praised of Biden’s climate plan, in a statement saying he was “pleased that it will create so many jobs in nearly every sector of the workforce we represent, including construction, utility, telecommunications, manufacturing, and railroad.”

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the national arm for U.S. labor unions, also called Biden’s plan “strong.”

Left-leaning environmental groups, also once skeptical of Biden’s commitment to addressing what they see as a generation-defining environmental crisis, are pleased to see Biden taking more aggressive steps than the plan he put forward last year in the middle of the primary campaign.

“Joe Biden’s latest climate plan is proof that we can hold him accountable, and we will continue to do so,” said Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, North America director for 350 Action, which had endorsed Sanders.

Many of its member oil companies have histories of denying the existence of climate change. But today API says it’s taking steps in the other direction.

The group notes the growth in gas-fired generation has eaten into the market share of coal, the most carbon-intensive form of electricity generation, and that the industry is taking voluntary steps to rein in the release of methane, a potential greenhouse gas, from its drilling operations.

American Petroleum Institute President Mike Sommers, right, with union officials in 2019. (Paul Morigi/AP/American Petroleum Institute)

API is nonpartisan and does not make formal presidential endorsements, though its president, Mike Sommers, was once chief of staff to then-House speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

Even if Biden wins, much of his climate plan would require legislation from Congress — a tall order even if Democrats take back the Senate in addition to the White House.