with Paulina Firozi

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.

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.

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.

Power plays

Trump finalized a major overhaul of a landmark environmental law yesterday. 

Speaking at an event at a United Parcel Service hub in Atlanta, Trump called it a “truly historic breakthrough” and said the move would help restart the economy. 

Speaking about infrastructure regulatory reform in Atlanta on July 15, President Trump claimed the United States would continue to have clean air and water. (The Washington Post)

“Together, we’re reclaiming America’s proud heritage as a nation of builders and a nation that can get things done,” Trump said. 

“The sweeping changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, which opponents have vowed to fight in court and reverse if Democrats regain control of the executive and legislative branches this fall, underscore the stakes in this year’s election,” Juliet Eilperin and Felicia Sonmez report.

They add: “The law requires the federal government to analyze the impact of a major project or federal action on the environment — and to seek public input — before approving it. Trump and his allies in business and industry argue that the law has proved costly and cumbersome to developers. But supporters say it provides Americans — particularly those in poor and minority neighborhoods that bear the brunt of many polluting industries — with a say on proposals that will affect them for decades to come.” 

Native American tribes will file a response opposing the temporary order to let oil continue to flow through the Dakota Access oil pipeline. 

“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted Dakota Access an administrative stay on Tuesday while it considers whether the line, long opposed by local tribes and environmental activists, should be shut to address permitting issues dating to 2017,” Reuters reports. “… This order, however, is meant to be short-term in nature, and attorneys for the tribes are expected to file a response opposing a longer-term emergency stay motion by next week.” 

Coronavirus fallout

National parks are grappling with how to remain open safely to be a refuge amid the pandemic. 

That’s especially true in places like Arizona, where there’s increasing pressure to shutter the Grand Canyon and other national parks as the state sees a major spike in cases, the New York Times reports

Making things more difficult, there’s no national strategy or guidance from federal officials, leaving individual parks and local officials to come up with their own plans to openings and closures.

“As locked-down Americans clamor to return to the outdoors and families seek out safe vacations from limited options, the national parks could become the latest battleground in the fight over reopening,” the Times adds. “When the pandemic took hold in the United States this spring, many local public health officials demanded that the parks close, arguing that the millions of tourists they attract endangered vulnerable people in adjacent towns and tribal lands, often-remote places with hospitals miles away.” 

Some lawmakers are questioning whether to keep parks open, even with restrictions. 

“I felt all along that the public health rationale for closing these places, which was obvious to everyone, was overridden by the symbolic need to have something open,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee. “… It’s the same situation in all the parks. The administration trying to shoehorn political and economic considerations into its decisions, and the public health taking a back seat to those discussions.”

Oil workers in Mexico are dying from the coronavirus at an usually high rate. 

“Petroleos Mexicanos, as it’s also known, said late Tuesday that 202 employees and five contractors have died of the disease so far. No other company has reported fatalities that come anywhere near that number, according to data reviewed by Bloomberg,” Bloomberg News reports

Many of the workers also had preexisting health conditions that may have worsened the impact of the virus.

Oil check

OPEC and its allies agreed to increase oil production starting next month. 

Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia-led allies agreed to ease current oil production caps by 1.6 million barrels a day, the Wall Street Journal reports. The agreement signals that oil demand is recovering following pandemic-driven slowdowns. 

“In April, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, led a push among the 23-producer group to cut collective output by 9.7 million barrels a day, as the pandemic led to a collapse of oil demand,” per the report. “… Producers’ relative optimism coincides with a Friday report from the International Energy Agency showing the worst effects of the coronavirus on global oil demand have passed but will continue to echo as the market slowly recovers in the second half of 2020.” 


The streak of unusual warmth in Siberia and the record temperatures in the Arctic would have been virtually impossible without global warming, according to a new study. 

The study by the World Weather Attribution project found that “the prolonged January-to-June heat, which has led to a record spike in wildfires across the Siberian Arctic, was made at least 600 times as likely by human-caused climate change. This led them to conclude such an event would be nearly impossible in the absence of global warming,” my colleague Andrew Freedman reports. “The analysis shows that the six months of much above-average temperatures in the region would only occur less than about once in 80,000 years without human-caused climate change.” 

If Washington’s football team changes its name to “Red Wolves,” scientists say it could help the endangered species. 

Ron Sutherland, a chief scientist at the nonprofit Wildlands Network in Durham, N.C., is in favor of changing the name to the Red Wolves, an idea that has support from some fans, Scott Allen reports. “The red wolf is on the brink of going extinct in the wild for a second time, and Sutherland suggested the exposure that would come with an NFL team naming itself after the animal could only help its chance of survival,” he adds. 

“It would mean a lot of the country would suddenly hear something about the story of this animal, and that’s what the red wolf needs,” Sutherland told The Post. “You’ve got this incredibly dire conservation going on right now, and people don’t even know about it. I think it would bring recognition to the red wolf.”