THE LIGHTBULB

The biggest British petroleum producer just set one of the most ambitious climate goals of any major multinational oil-and-gas company. Now the pressure is on its American counterparts to do the same. 

On Wednesday, BP said it will try to slash its own greenhouse gas emissions from the production and use of its gasoline, jet fuel and other products. Its goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century follows similar pledges from other European oil majors, including Royal Dutch Shell and Repsol.

Though BP was short on details about how it will hit that ambitious mark, its announcement is a coup for investors and activists putting pressure on corporations to confront a dire and looming environmental crisis.

Now their attention is turning to ExxonMobil and Chevron, the two largest oil companies in the United States.

“They were laggards before and they're now further behind than they were a month or two ago,” said Andrew Logan, a senior director at Ceres, a sustainability nonprofit organization pressing companies to address climate change.

So far, the two big U.S. petroleum producers have only committed to trimming emissions from drilling, refining and transporting their products — not from their use in automobiles or at power plants. But those operational emissions account for only a fraction of any oil companies' overall contribution to rising temperatures worldwide.

Chevron spokesman Sean Comey said that cutting emissions from the burning of its products "requires a combination of well-designed policies and carbon pricing mechanisms" from governments around the world, as noted in a statement on carbon pricing that Chevron and other major oil companies signed at the request of Pope Francis. Exxon did not reply to a request for comment.

That's what makes BP's commitment noteworthy: It includes end-use emissions in its climate targets. The company plans to still produce oil and gas by 2050, but that would require major breakthroughs in technologies that capture carbon dioxide before it reaches the atmosphere. Those carbon-capture technologies are still in development and are not yet financially feasible. 

BP's pledge, Logan said, “expands the scope of what's seen as possible for what an oil company can do.” The announcement is one of the first moves made by Bernard Looney, BP’s new chief executive, who started the job earlier this month.

The news comes as big Wall Street banks are under greater pressure than ever to withhold financing from fossil-fuel projects. In a note to investors, one of those financial institutions, HSBC, called BP's pledge “potentially a game-changer for the company and the industry.”

ExxonMobil and Chevron have made their fair share of pledges when it comes to climate change. In a break with President Trump, a staunch ally of the U.S. oil sector, both companies support placing a tax on carbon emissions and agreed with the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which seeks to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Trump has pulled the United States out of the Paris accord.

Exxon, too, says it supports having some sort of federal regulation on the release of methane, another greenhouse gas, from oil and gas facilities. The Trump administration has rolled back methane rules put in place under President Barack Obama.

But Exxon has otherwise resisted overtures from activist investors to tackle climate change more aggressively. Last year, Exxon persuaded the Securities and Exchange Commission to block a proposal urging the company to adopt and disclose greenhouse gas targets aligned with the Paris accord.

So why have European oil companies been more ambitious in their climate pledges than major U.S. firms? Kathy Mulvey, an accountability campaign director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, chalked up that transatlantic gap to oil companies facing greater pressure from European lawmakers to act on climate change.

“At the national level in Europe,” she said, “there's more happening.” 

POWER PLAYS

— EPA releases new environmental enforcement data: The agency yesterday revealed new numbers on how vigorously it enforced environmental law through the 12-month period ending September 2019.

  • What went up: The agency opened more criminal cases and collected more fines in fiscal 2019 than in the previous year.
  • What went down: The new data also showed the agency conducted fewer inspections and initiated fewer civil cases.
  • An outsider's perspective: The Environmental Integrity Project gave the numbers a mixed review: “While we see slight improvement, the numbers suggest a continuing downward trend in environmental enforcement,” said Eric Schaeffer, the organization’s executive director and former director of civil enforcement at the EPA. “This is especially troubling, because we don’t think states are in a position to take up the slack, even if they wanted to, because they have reported declining environmental budgets and workforces.”

— The hottest January on record: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced January was the hottest on record. The month clocked in at about two degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average of 53.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Last record: January 2016 previously held the record for the warmest January.
  • Up next: The report warns that 2020 is very likely to rank among the five warmest years on record.

A fresh lobbying effort for a carbon tax: The Climate Leadership Council, a group of prominent politicians, economists and corporate executives, is renewing its push for Congress to implement a new tax on carbon emissions fees, and pay back to Americans the revenue raised to the tune of approximately $2,000 a year for a family of four, The Post's Steven Mufson reports

  • Who supports it: A number of prominent economists and former presidential officials, including former Federal Reserve chair Janet L. Yellen, former treasury secretary James A. Baker and former secretary of state George P. Shultz.
  • But will it be a bill? The group began promoting the idea back in 2017, but has found little traction in Congress so far. The group briefed the Senate Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus and other lawmakers Tuesday and Wednesday. Sens. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who head the caucus, have not endorsed any particular plan and said Wednesday, “We look forward to continuing these conversations with a wide range of stakeholders and perspectives from across the country.”

— Trump taps two new number twos: The president announced Thursday he will nominate two men for high-level environmental and energy positions in his administration. Both posts require confirmation by the Senate.

  • The first is Mark Menezes, the under secretary of energy, who is being put up for the job of deputy secretary at the Energy Department. He would replace Dan Brouillette, who became secretary after the departure of Rick Perry. 
  • The second is Douglas Benevento, who will be nominated as the EPA's deputy administrator. Benevento previously led the agency's Denver-based regional office.

— A plan to make a mural of Greta Thunberg is sparking outrage in North Dakota: A photographer who planned to make a seven-foot mural outside a bakery in downtown Bismarck has been inundated with attacks and threats calling the teenage activist a “propaganda machine from the Left,” The Post’s Teo Armus reports. 

  • To quote: “This isn’t a swastika that I’m installing, or something with nudity. This is a young girl standing in a field,” said photographer Shane Balkowitsch, who has decided to abandon his plans for the mural. 
  • Why the strong reaction? “In a place like Bismarck, where much of the economy is tied to North Dakota’s lucrative oil fields, it seems the mere sight of her face has taken on a divisive tenor too,” Armus writes.
Local
Officials say that waiting to see how Congress will intervene is an unsustainable — and stressful — way of doing business.
Marissa Lang
The electric-car maker says the agency is also looking into contracts and “regular financing arrangements.”
The New York Times
Obituaries
He led the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change when it shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.
Harrison Smith

DAYBOOK

Coming up:

  • The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs will hold a hearing entitled “Surface Transportation Reauthorization: Public Transportation Stakeholders’ Perspectives" on Tuesday, Feb. 25.

EXTRA MILEAGE

— A cosmic capture: NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft snapped a picture of Arrokoth, a celestial fossil the size of a city, and what looked like two lumpy, reddish snowballs, last year. On Thursday, scientists said that the object provides compelling evidence for how planets, including Earth, formed, The Post’s Joel Achenbach reports