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House hearing puts pressure on American oil companies' climate pledges

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Happy Hump Day. 

Three takeaways from the House Oversight hearing on Big Oil's climate pledges

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform yesterday held a hearing on whether fossil fuel companies' climate commitments are consistent with the Paris agreement.

The hearing was less of a blockbuster event than top Democrats had hoped. That's because the board members of ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell did not testify before the committee as planned. (Their testimony was postponed until next month because of scheduling conflicts.)

Still, the hearing provided a valuable look at the gaps in American oil companies' climate pledges compared to their European counterparts. It also revealed some Republicans' continued dismissal of the severity of the climate crisis.

We watched the entire three-hour hearing so you didn't have to. Here are our three main takeaways:

1. American oil companies vs. European firms

ExxonMobil and Chevron, which are both headquartered in the United States, faced more scrutiny on Tuesday than their European competitors BP and Shell, which have generally set more ambitious commitments to shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

  • While ExxonMobil and Chevron have both announced goals of reaching net-zero emissions in their operations by 2050, these pledges do not cover scope 3 emissions, which include the emissions generated by customers, such as drivers burning gasoline.
  • In ExxonMobil's case, Scope 3 emissions account for about 90 percent of the carbon pollution generated by the company's products.

ExxonMobil's goal "sounds great in a press release, but it takes only a minimal amount of investigating to see that it's just more corporate greenwashing," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

Michael Mann, a noted climate scientist who directs the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, also criticized Chevron for only committing to reducing carbon intensity, not to reducing absolute emissions. (Carbon intensity is the amount of carbon by weight emitted per unit of energy consumed.)

"That's sort of like your doctor telling you that you need to cut fat from your diet, and so you switch to 40 percent reduced fat potato chips, but you eat twice as many of them," Mann testified at the hearing. "That doesn't help."

Asked for comment, ExxonMobil spokeswoman Erin McGrath pointed to a recent company report that said "constraining ExxonMobil’s production to reduce the Company’s Scope 3 emissions simply transfers that production and associated emissions to another supplier. This would increase overall emissions if production shifts to a less-efficient, higher-emission operator."

A Chevron spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. BP on Tuesday announced an acceleration of its plans to become a net-zero company by 2050.

2. GOP rejects severity of climate change

Several Republicans blasted what they described as "alarmist" rhetoric about the effects of global warming.

"Climate alarmism is being pushed on young children, sometimes very young children, causing them to be very concerned, I think, about the future of the world," said Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.).

Rep. Michael Cloud (R-Tex.) slammed Oversight Democrats for holding several hearings on "climate hysteria," rather than on immigration and the opioid epidemic.

And as their witness, committee Republicans invited Katie Tubb, a senior policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, who said, "I do think the Earth has warmed, but I don't think we're headed for catastrophe."

By contrast, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that global warming is already having catastrophic effects, from rising seas to stronger storms, and worse impacts lie ahead.

“Talking about climate change for Republicans is like talking about January 6th. Deny, deny, deny,” said Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.).

3. Rep. Khanna expects board members at next hearing

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Oversight Subcommittee on Environment, told The Climate 202 that he expects all five board members of the oil companies to testify at the panel's next climate hearing on March 8.

"It's being worked out, but I anticipate that they will attend,” Khanna said in an interview after the hearing, adding, “I'd love to have these directors really commit to tackling scope 3 emissions. That can be a win-win that the committee's discussions have led to change for the oil companies.”

Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell, confirmed that Jane Holl Lute, a former special adviser to the United Nations secretary general ​​​​​​who sits on the Shell board's sustainability committee, will testify next month.

Meanwhile, Rep. James Comer (Ky.), the top Republican on the Oversight panel, yesterday sent a letter asking Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to testify before the committee about rising energy prices, which the GOP has sought to tie to President Biden's climate agenda.

The Energy Department did not respond to a request for comment.

On the Hill

Welch, Shaheen press Biden administration on energy efficiency standards

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) yesterday led a letter urging the Biden administration to finalize long-overdue energy efficiency standards for appliances.

“A renewed focus on this long-standing, proven and effective policy is essential to achieving critical climate goals and helping families save on their energy bills,” says the letter to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Office of Management and Budget acting director Shalanda Young.

The Biden administration has faced delays in updating more than a dozen efficiency standards weakened under Donald Trump.

Pressure points

Virginia Senate vote stalls Wheeler’s appointment to Youngkin’s cabinet

Democrats who control the state Senate in Virginia on Tuesday blocked a Republican effort to install Andrew Wheeler, who led the Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump, in Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s cabinet, The Washington Post’s Laura Vozzella reports

Democrats last week removed Wheeler's name from a resolution listing 16 Cabinet picks. Republicans introduced an amendment to add back his name, but the amendment failed yesterday on a 21-to-19 vote.

Wheeler, who oversaw the rollbacks of numerous Obama-era environmental regulations at the EPA, has been acting as secretary of natural and historic resources in Virginia since Youngkin took office. The vote could prevent him from continuing.

The Senate will take a final vote on the resolution today, then send it to the Republican-led House.

Biden highlights decision of vehicle charging company to build plant in Tennessee

President Biden on Tuesday touted the decision of an Australian electric vehicle charging company to build its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Tennessee during a White House event, The Post's John Wagner reports.

The announcement could help accelerate Biden’s electric vehicle agenda and his focus on reviving manufacturing jobs. Biden said the facility, to be built by Tritium, could eventually produce as many as 30,000 electric vehicle chargers a year and create 500 local jobs. 

The president also said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will soon announce $5 billion in funding to encourage the installation of charging stations across the country, including in rural areas.

DeJoy calls Postal Service plan for gas trucks ‘frankly ambitious’

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Tuesday defended his agency's plan to replace its aging delivery trucks with mostly gas-powered vehicles amid criticism from Democrats and environmentalists.

“This level of commitment to an electric fleet in our proposed action is frankly ambitious given the pressing vehicle and safety needs of our aging fleet and our dire financial condition," DeJoy said at a meeting of the Postal Service's governing board, according to our colleague Jacob Bogage, who attended the meeting.

International climate

Greenpeace chief to lead Germany’s climate policy

Jennifer Morgan, head of the environmental group Greenpeace International, was tapped on Tuesday by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock to be special envoy for international climate policy, Markus Wacket and Paul Carrel of Reuters report. The country aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2045 but recently admitted that it is not on track to meet targets for 2030.

Baerbock said she will formally announce Morgan for the new role today after her appointment has been approved by the cabinet. The American-born environmentalist has co-led Greenpeace since 2016 and has long been a prominent figure in international climate diplomacy. 

Extreme events

Los Angeles sees rare February heat warning

Multiple National Weather Service offices in California have issued excessive-heat alerts ahead of climbing temperatures Wednesday — a rare measure for February, The Post’s Matthew Capucci and Jacob Feuerstein report. 

The Weather Service warned of “dangerously hot conditions with temperatures up to 90 degrees possible,” an alert that is only issued when “extremely dangerous” heat seems likely within one to three days. About 16 million people live within the warning areas. 

It’s the first time since at least 2006, when technology allowed for such weather alerts, that an excessive-heat watch was issued in February for Southern California. The record-breaking weather is a hallmark of human-induced climate change, with average winter temperature in Los Angeles increasing by 2 degrees since 1948.

Climate in the courts

Lawsuit against Exxon and Suncor must remain in state court, judge rules

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit on Tuesday rejected an appeal from Exxon Mobil and Suncor Energy to keep a Boulder, Colo., climate liability case in federal court, Bloomberg Law’s Jennifer Hijazi reports.  

The decision marked the first time this year that a circuit court has ruled on the question of whether climate liability lawsuits belong in state or federal court. The jurisdictional question has so far delayed the batch of lawsuits, which allege that the oil industry has deceived the public for decades about the dangers of burning fossil fuels.

Agency alert

U.S. Army’s first climate plan aims to cut emissions, build EV fleet

The United States Army on Tuesday released its first climate strategy, which details the risks that climate change poses to international security. The report says that higher temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and more frequent extreme weather could result in the Army facing “simultaneous readiness challenges.” At the same time, it notes global warming's potential to “increase the risk of armed conflict” as climate hazards compound resource insecurity and social instability. 

The report calls for reaching net-zero emissions for the Army's supply chain by 2050, along with conducting regular training to prepare its force for a climate-altered world. It also calls for carbon-free electricity for Army installation needs and an all-electric non-tactical vehicle fleet by 2035. 


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