with Paulina Firozi


The oil and gas industry is fighting back: It's throwing in big bucks to counter attacks from Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren that it's contributing to climate change. 

The American Petroleum Institute is planning to spend upward of $1 million through 2020 on a new advertising campaign arguing that it's actually part of the solution when it comes to slowing the rise of global temperatures.

The main lobbying arm of the oil and gas industry will pour money into broadcast televisions spots, social media posts, billboards and airport placards promoting natural gas as a reason the United States is reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

The ad blitz comes as Sanders (I-Vt.), Warren (D-Mass.) and a number of other presidential candidate have promised to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, should they win the White House. And API's message runs up against the advice of thousands of scientists who say we must keep the remaining oil and gas in the ground as the only way to forestall dangerous warming of the Earth.

A ban on fracking would be a major blow to the industry — one it is increasingly seeking to avoid amid a presidential campaign where polling shows voters are more concerned than ever about climate change. API warns that banning fracking would constitute economic self-sabotage for the United States. 

“Here's a glimpse of that vision... In the short run, a fracking ban would quickly invite a global recession,” API chief Mike Sommers told members of Congress, Trump administration officials, oil executives and labor union leaders gathered for the group's annual January luncheon in Washington on Tuesday. “You don't abolish the most dynamic asset of the world's leading energy producer without severe consequences.”

But outside economists say that and other warnings API made Tuesday are overblown. 

"I think is highly unlikely that a fracking ban in the US alone would lead to a global recession, but it could slow economic growth in the short term in the U.S. unless it is accompanied by other policies that spur growth," said Kenneth Gillingham, an economics professor at Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

API points to how the gush of cheap gas from fracking over the past decade has helped shutter hundreds of coal-fired power plants as they are replaced by less-polluting, gas-fired ones. Fracking, along with horizontal drilling, are "as important as the invention the iPhone,” Sommers said.

“We have to serve the vast and growing demand for affordable energy and we have to accelerate progress on the serious challenge of climate change,” added Sommers, who once served as chief of staff for former House speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

The API ad campaign is running nationwide, with an emphasis on oil- and gas-producing states such as New Mexico and Pennsylvania, and swing congressional districts in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and elsewhere. The lobbying group produced seven videos featuring residents from seven states it is targeting.

And in what is likely a bid to emphasize the low emissions of gas compared to coal, the ads referred to the industry as “gas and oil” rather than oil and gas.

“This is natural gas and oil,” the ads read. “This is energy progress.”

When it comes to the new marketing initiative, longtime environmental critics of the oil and gas industry see it as nothing more than an "embarrassing attempt at rebranding [that] doesn't change anything about the dirty fossil fuels API is pushing," according to Kelly Martin, director of the Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign at the Sierra Club, which promotes renewable energy sources as a solution to climate change.

Speaking to reporters before the luncheon, Sommers demurred when asked whether API would support specific emissions-reduction targets. But API did release a report in conjunction with the luncheon with hard-number claims on the economic effects of a ban on fracking. The group is saying a ban could lead to as many as 7.3 million fewer jobs, both in the oil and sector itself and across the rest of the economy.

Yet Jason Furman, a professor of economic policy at Harvard, said that although a ban on fracking would hurt economic growth, the hit would not be nearly enough to make that many people lose their jobs. 

“It's a ludicrous exaggeration of what would be a meaningful hit to the U.S. economy,” Furman said, noting that the U.S. economy shed nearly 9 million jobs economywide during the Great Recession.

He added that “it would be very hard to go from this to a global recession.”

Gillingham, the Yale economist, agreed by noting that the total employment in oil and gas extraction as of last November was 164,800 — an order of magnitude lower than the job losses API projected.

"I am very skeptical of those jobs numbers," he said for API's claim.


— Trump opposes Democrats' PFAS bill: The White House released a statement threatening to veto the wide-ranging legislation expected to reach the House floor this week that addresses a class of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The White House argued the bill would “supersede existing statutory requirements” and would “create considerable litigation risk, set problematic and unreasonable rulemaking timelines and precedents and impose substantial, unwarranted costs.” 

  • The status of the PFAS bill: “A vote on the House bill is slated for Thursday, and the measure is widely expected to pass the Democratic-controlled chamber,” the Hill reports. “The bill was expected to face resistance in the GOP-led Senate, with the administration's statement Tuesday further diminishing the legislation's prospects.”
  • More to know: “The statement from the White House largely mirrors previous concerns expressed by Republicans, who wanted to ensure utilities would not be saddled with meeting a standard that requires expensive technology far beyond their means.”

— FEMA preparedness report omits climate, sea-level rise: The latest summary of the country’s susceptibility to threats such as natural disasters is mum on climate change, drought and sea-level rise. The 2019 National Preparedness Report, which is written by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is the first in eight years to leave out the word climate, E&E News reports. The report was released by the agency in December. 

  • Why it matters: “The preparedness report ... is one of the administration's latest steps to deny the dangers of climate change, despite government warnings that global warming is increasing the frequency and intensity of natural disasters,” per E&E. “FEMA's 2018-2022 strategic plan, released in March 2018, also did not mention climate change, unlike the report published four years earlier. This week, the administration plans to order federal agencies to disregard climate change in their evaluations of major projects such as pipeline construction.”

— Raúl Grijalva calls again for information on BLM reorganization plan: The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee sent a letter to the Interior Department re-upping requests for additional documents and information, including a cost-benefit analysis and financial justification for the administration’s decision to relocate the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters to Colorado from Washington. Grijalva (D-Ariz. ) cited a Dec. 31 letter from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt that suggested a meeting but did not provide requested materials. “Your New Year’s Eve letter is part of a pattern whereby we request data and you offer to meet for a discussion. Your feelings about moving BLM headquarters to Colorado are clear and I do not require a meeting to discuss them,” the letter reads.

— EPA employees want a bill of rights: Environmental Protection Agency workers are pushing for a bill of rights they say is critical for protecting scientific integrity at the agency under the Trump administration, HuffPost reports

  • What workers say: Bethany Dreyfus, a lawyer who works on Superfund enforcement, described the bill of rights as a symbolic effort. “There’s been an attack on the EPA from a lot of directions ― an attack on EPA science, an attack on our regulations, and an attack on the workers who actually do the work,” said Dreyfus, a Local 1236 president for the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents agency workers. 
  • What the agency says: An EPA representative told HuffPost: “EPA has established, and continues to promote, a culture of scientific integrity for all of its employees. This policy provides a framework intended to ensure scientific integrity throughout the EPA and promote scientific and ethical standards.”
A powerful 6.4-magnitude earthquake off Puerto Rico’s southwestern coast early Jan. 7 triggered a widespread blackout on the island and damaged homes. (The Washington Post)

— Puerto Rico earthquake leads to widespread blackout: A powerful earthquake and subsequent aftershocks damaged the Costa Sur power generation plant, leaving millions across the U.S. territory in the dark on Tuesday. Authorities also said 300,000 customers lacked water service. 

  • The details: “Puerto Rico electrical authorities reported damage to infrastructure along the southern coast and said they were evaluating substations across the island. Power utility spokeswoman Edith Seda said the system is designed to shut off automatically in the event of vibrations, and the extent of damage to the Costa Sur plant was unclear,” The Post's Cristina Corujo, Arelis R. Hernández and Samantha Schmidt report. The blackouts sparked concerns of a repeat of the months-long outages after 2017’s Hurricane Maria.
  • Calls for federal aid: Grijalva, who chairs the committee that oversees Puerto Rico, called on the administration to release any remaining federal disaster funding from Maria to the territory. “The Trump administration’s indifference and incompetence have already cost residents of Puerto Rico their lives and their livelihoods, and continuing that pattern now is completely unacceptable,” Grijalva said in a statement. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Jenniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico's representative in Congress, sent a letter to Trump calling on him to approve the Puerto Rico government's request for a disaster declaration.

— This year’s Women’s March will include climate events: The Women’s March announced that for 2020, it will host a week of smaller, targeted events alongside a march, The Post’s Marissa J. Lang reports. The events will focus on issues including climate change. The organization conducted a survey of Women’s March participants asking about main concerns and found climate change was among the top issues. 



  • The National Council for Science and the Environment’s annual conference continues.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on “The Nonpoint Source Management Program Under the Clean Water Act: Perspectives from States” on Wednesday.

Coming Up

  • The House Transportation Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment holds a hearing on proposals for a Water Resources Development Act of 2020 on Thursday.


— Dates to look forward to in 2020: Here's a good PSA from Vox's Lauren Katz: