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Big Oil Talks the Talk Then Pulls an End-Run on Carbon Pricing

[fa icon="calendar'] Mar 13, 2015 10:44:04 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson-Holding

Carpool lane

The Seattle Times ran an article whose headline was so unsurprising I almost didn’t read on: “Oil industry not buying Gov. Jay Inslee’s cap-and-trade plan.” No surprise right?

Big Oil’s actions tell us it not only wants to kill carbon pricing but still actively promotes climate-denial, a fact most recently reinforced by the cash-for-climate-denial scandal of Harvard-Smithsonian physicist Wei-Hock Soon, whose papers are the go-to reference for impugning climate change. Big Oil withdrew from direct supporting Soon and now funnels “donations” through Donors Trust charity, which in turn donates to climate denial organizations.

And hadn’t I just been sent a link to Biggreenradicals.com, a site funded by the DC-based Environmental Policy Alliance (which goes by the ultra-cynical acronym “EPA”)? Its stated function is to “educate the public about the real agenda of well-funded environmental activist groups” and its investigations point to the Kremlin as a major funder of the US EPA.

Russia funds the EPA to destabilize the U.S.? Really? Still, whatever “EPA” is spending on its whacky research is a pittance compared to $213 million the fossil fuel industry spent last year on lobbying and the $900 million a year given to organizational supporters of climate denial.

That Seattle Times headline seemed to be restating the obvious, that oil companies will always oppose carbon pricing. But the text of the article presents a totally different picture: “…(chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell) Ben van Beurden warned that the industry faces a credibility problem ‘if you undermine calls for an effective carbon price; and if you always descend into the ‘jobs versus environment’ argument in the public debate’.”

Shell is not the only oil giant to endorse carbon pricing — BP also says it favors a global carbon price, and that national or regional carbon policies are “a good first step.” The industry knows its coming. 73 countries including China and Russia have or are creating a form of carbon pricing, either carbon tax or cap and trade. A successful cap and trade system has been operating since 2008 across nine states in the northeastern U.S.

But here in Washington State, where the legislature is currently debating cap and trade legislation, the oil industry is opposing carbon pricing with everything its got.

It’s a brilliant play:

Big Oil CEOs say they support carbon pricing.

Washington’s governor proposes legislation would set a price on carbon emissions.

Big Oil refuses to negotiate.

The oil and gas sector has spent $415,000 in donations directly to legislative candidates. Couldn’t they have stalemated without the expensive price tag?

Sure, but they’ve got something else up their sleeve:

Last week, the GOP-controlled Senate passed a new $15-billion transportation plan that includes increases in the gas tax (nearly 12 cents phased in over three years) to pay for road infrastructure.

…But the Senate bill also contains a so-called ‘poison pill’ that cuts transit funding if the governor imposes stricter emission standards on fuels, vehicles or fuel distributors, or limits carbon emissions. That would be true for the life of the plan, or about 16 years.

How diabolically clever. Going flat out against any limit on emissions, much less cap and trade, would backfire in a pro-environment state like Washington, where 71% of the population supports the measure. With its Republican friends in the Senate, Big Oil devised a run-around that improves the odds that cap and trade will not become law and holds public transit ransom if anyone objects.

Improving Washington State’s roads could alleviate the terrible traffic jams in Western Washington’s cities. But they’d also make Washington State’s major polluters, private passenger cars, more attractive, and thereby assure that the switch from fossil fuels to renewables is extended. Carbon pricing seems inevitable, even to Big Oil, yet they’re using every trick to delay it, spending a bundle in this relatively tiny market to do so.

Thankfully, we’ve got a governor willing to throw his political clout behind it, and the support of environmentalists, labor unions, health organizations, low-income groups and native tribes. And shouldn’t that be enough?

Photo courtesy of Keith Tyler via Flickr CC


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 10,000+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 13,736+ companies from 135 industries in 127 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Ben van Beurden, Carbon pricing, emissions, Shell, Uncategorized, Wei-Hock Soon, BP, cap and fade, Carol Pierson Holding, environmental, Washington state

Big Oil Carbon Pricing Disclosure a Diversion?

[fa icon="calendar'] Dec 17, 2013 12:53:33 PM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

One of the more solid tenets of Big Oil dogma has always been that carbon pricing, whetherCarbon pricing a simple tax or a market-based cap-and-trade system, is terrible and conservatives must stand in unison against it. Daily Caller reporter Michael Bastach, a former Koch Institute Intern, confirmed this recently: “This vote against a carbon tax in the (American Legislative Exchange Council) ALEC meeting in Chicago … comes after Republicans in both the House and the Senate voted unanimously against a carbon tax earlier this year.”

So it was a surprise to read the December 5 New York Times headline “Large Companies Prepared to Pay Price on Carbon.” Seemed a leap from what the real news was: according to the article, Carbon Disclosure Project, now CDP, released research findings that big companies have been figuring a carbon tax into their financial models for some time.

Well, of course they have, and we knew that.

CDP itself said as much. Its 2012 report predicts that companies will act ahead of regulation: “80% of the Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index (CDLI) include climate change information in their annual reports (non-CDLI: 49%).”

Shell’s New Lens Scenarios predicted that in 2020, “emissions are heavily taxed.”

And California is implementing Cap and Trade.

The non-news “news” made the top right hand column of the New York Times front page, placement reserved for the day’s most important story. The same story seemed to appear everywhere at once, from Huffington Post’s Politics Section to Reuters and a week later, Forbes.

But still, why is this major news? And why now?

Certainly, the media has recommitted to environmental coverage. New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan ended her impassioned commitment to environmental reporting with a quote from Al Gore, “The survival of human civilization is at risk. The news media should be making this existential crisis the No. 1 topic they cover.” The heat is on.

But my bet is that the news included, for the first time, the specific price per ton for carbon that each company is using. Exxon’s bet is $60; BP and Shell use $40; the lowest number is $6. CDP’s mission is to give investors data they can use to motivate companies to disclose their environmental impacts and take action to reduce them. It’s difficult for investors to make risk projections based on generalized corporate statements of intent. Much easier when the company publishes actual cost projections, as the respondents to CDP did. More than just another admission of responsibility, this is vital news for investors and confirms that CDP respondents are serious about carbon pricing.

Or maybe CDP respondents finally took a hard look at what’s actually at stake.

According to CDP, if oil and gas companies don’t come out for carbon pricing, the risk is delayed projects, further divestment pressure and, at the worst, threats to their license to operate.

Even when carbon pricing is enacted, profits will be safe. Consumers will end up paying for carbon taxes in any guise through higher energy bills, as they have in the past.

Stock prices won’t be hurt – in fact, investors like the certainty of carbon pricing. MarketWatch said of the announcement, “Big Oil is straying from conservative orthodoxy and making long-term financial plans under the assumption the government will force them to pay a price for carbon pollution as a way to control global warming — and Exxon Mobil Corp is better prepared than others to face the new expense” because of its investments in natural gas, which has lower measurable emissions.

[csrhubwidget company="Exxon-Mobil-Corporation" size="650x100" hash="c9c0f7"]

The potential opportunity from Big Oil embracing carbon pricing and accepting its responsibilities, as Exxon did in openly acknowledging to the New York Times that carbon pollution from fossil fuels contributes to climate change? A reputational turn-around that could result in higher stock prices.

The most cynical explanation for the timing of the “news” is that that Big Oil is looking at carbon prices as a distraction from the real threat that fossil fuel production will be regulated out of business. They stimulated salacious delight in exposing their actual numbers and changed front page chatter from what had been dominant, that major public funding sources from the Ex-Im Bank to the World Bank would no longer lend to coal projects. When the administration nearly doubled its internal carbon price earlier this year, energy companies immediately jumped in – to demand the calculations be open to public comment. Carbon pricing wrangling could divert the media from more important stories.

Photo courtesy of Carbon Visuals via Flickr CC.


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 8,400+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 8,400+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 290+ data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.


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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in ALEC, Carbon Disclosure Project, Carbon pricing, Ex-Im, Exxon, fossil fuels, World Bank, Shell, Uncategorized, Margaret Sullivan, BP, Carol Pierson Holding, CDP, Michael Bastach

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