Energy & Environment — Documents cast doubt on oil firms’ climate pledges

House Democrats released documents that raise questions about climate commitments made by major oil firms, while the Biden administration is pursuing offshore wind in deeper waters.  

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New documents raise questions on net-zero pledge

Internal documents from major oil companies released by Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee appear to cast doubt on their supposed climate and green energy commitments.

Shell’s website says that the company’s “target” is to “become a net-zero emissions business by 2050.”  

  • But internal messaging guidance documents released by the committee state that “Shell has no immediate plans to move to a net-zero emissions portfolio over our investment horizon of 10-20 years.”  
  • Net-zero emissions are when a company’s contribution to climate change is fully offset by its actions that mitigate climate change — making its total emissions equal to zero. 

So what do they have to say? Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith said via email that the internal assertions about the company’s net-zero ambitions appear to be outdated. 

The messaging guidance document appears to be attached to an email dated
Jan. 31, 2020. A few months later, in April 2020, Shell unveiled a pledge to reach
net-zero. 

But, later that year, in October 2020, Helen O’Connor, Shell’s manager for U.S. stakeholder relations, in an email exchange appeared to imply that a certain company climate policy had “nothing to do with our business plans.” 

In a separate email exchange, from 2019, O’Connor states that Shell’s Paris agreement pathway “is not a Shell business plan.” 

  • Similarly, the messaging guidance document states that company “scenarios” like its Paris pathway “Sky Scenario” are not intended “to be predictions of likely future events or outcomes.” 
  • Smith said that Shell has been putting forward such “scenarios” for decades and said it’s “widely understood they are not prescriptions, predictions or meant to represent Shell’s current business plan.” 

Exxon, too: The documents also show that an ExxonMobil official suggested pushing the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a group that says it is leading the sector’s climate response, away from including the Paris agreement in a 2019 policy statement.  

Peter Trelenberg, Exxon’s manager of environmental policy and planning, warned that “creating a tie between our advocacy/engagements and the Paris Agreement could create a potential commitment to advocate on the Paris Agreement goals.” 

  • However, company spokesperson Todd Spitler said via email that the company has supported the Paris Agreement since its 2015 inception.  
  • “Certain groups have sought to misrepresent ExxonMobil’s positions and its support for effective policy solutions by recasting genuine policy debates as a disinformation campaign. These charges are baseless and any suggestion to the contrary is false,” Spitler said via email.  

The big picture: The committee released the documents it received from the companies as it attempts to make the case that such companies are “greenwashing” — that is participating in deceptive practices that make them appear more environmentally friendly than they actually are. 

Read more about the documents here.  

Biden eyes offshore wind in deeper waters  

The Biden administration is seeking to develop additional offshore wind energy in deeper waters and will auction off leases to spur such energy development by the end of the year. 

Typically, offshore wind turbines are attached to the sea floor in shallower waters, but the administration announced on Thursday that it will also pursue lease sales in deeper waters that rely on floating platforms to hold up the turbines.  

 The administration set a new goal of hitting 15 gigawatts of this floating offshore wind — which it says would produce enough energy to power more than 5 million U.S. homes — by the year 2035. 

  • It estimated that this will prevent 26 million metric tons of carbon emissions each year. That’s the equivalent of the emissions from nearly 26 coal-fired power plants.  
  • The administration has already said it hopes to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, regardless of what type.   

“Floating wind has incredible potential. It can establish the United States as a global leader in advancing new technology, and thus new projects, and it can help us achieve our climate and economic goals,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told reporters on Thursday.  

So how will they make this happen? The administration will auction off rights to build turbines in deeper waters off the coast of California by the end of this year. A White House fact sheet also identified Oregon and the Gulf of Maine as locations for potential future development.  

In support of the effort, the Energy Department is announcing nearly $50 million for research, development and demonstration. The agency said it hopes to bring down the cost of floating offshore wind technology by more than 70 percent by 2035. 

Read more about the effort here.  

SENATE TO TAKE UP CLIMATE TREATY VOTE 

The Senate will soon vote on whether to ratify a climate treaty, although Congress has already passed legislation needed to abide by it.

The upper chamber will take up the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which seeks to phase down the use of super polluting hydrofluorocarbons, which can be thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide.  

Historically, hydrofluorocarbons, also called HFCs, have been used in household appliances including refrigerators and air conditioners.  

Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), in floor remarks, stressed the importance of phasing down their use.  

  • “In a few moments, I will file cloture on a measure that will get the Senate to approve the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocols,” Schumer said.
     
  • “This important amendment, which already has been agreed to by
    120 countries, will affirm our nation’s commitment to curb the use of
    dangerous hydrofluorocarbons—HFCs,” he said. “ This is a very important opportunity for the Senate to make official America’s intention to phase these dangerous chemicals out of use.” 

In 2020, Congress passed legislation to require the country to significantly reduce its use of the substances.  

Treaties require a two-thirds majority to pass, so a significant number of Republicans will need to vote for the treaty to ratify it.  

SEC chair spars with Senate over climate rule  

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Gary Gensler faced a grilling on Capitol Hill on Thursday, with the agency head defending the SEC’s approach to issues including climate disclosure.  

The SEC’s proposed climate disclosure rule — which it released in March — would require publicly traded companies to calculate and publish the risks that climate change poses to their operations and what they are doing to address it. 

A refresher: Republicans have criticized the rules as onerous, arguing they are an example of the SEC conducting policy beyond its mandate. Gensler joined two other Democratic commissioners in voting for the proposed rules in March, while the SEC’s lone Republican commissioner, Hester Peirce, voted no. 

  • GOP lawmakers on the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday attempted to paint SEC climate disclosure policy as a backdoor and likely ineffectual attempt to reduce global temperatures. 
  • “What bothers me is why we’re spending trillions of dollars of scarce resources while China gets 60 percent of its energy from coal,” Sen. John Kennedy 
    (R-La.) said. “We spend all this money and world temperatures are not reduced.” 

Gensler refused to accept the premise that the SEC is attempting to influence global temperatures — a key tenet of broader Republican charges that the agency is pursuing policymaking beyond its mandate. 

He stressed that neither he nor his deputies were “motivated” by the drive to reduce global temperatures. 

“It’s about actually helping investors get more consistent information, even if they want to invest in what might be ‘brown’ assets rather than ‘green’ assets,” Gensler said, referring to fossil fuels and other carbon-intensive investments.

Such investors “will get more consistent information and will probably avoid some of the greenwashing that’s out there,” he added, referring to misleading marketing of unsustainable investments

Read more here, from The Hill’s Saul Elbein. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Judge tosses air permit for giant plastics complex, citing potential impact on Black community (Nola.com)
  • Idaho’s Far Right Suffers Election Loss to 18-Year-Old Climate Activist (The Intercept
  • Tesla Shifts Battery Strategy as It Seeks U.S. Tax Credits (The Wall Street Journal
  • California Removes Incentive to Use Natural Gas in New Buildings (Bloomberg) 

🚗 Lighter click: Biden on TikTok?

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Energy & Environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.  

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