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Oil company CEOs agree to testify before one committee, spurn another

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Oil company CEOs agree to testify before one committee, spurn another

The chief executives of six oil companies on Tuesday agreed to testify next month before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about high gas prices, even as three other fossil fuel CEOs rejected an invitation to appear before the House Natural Resources panel.

The developments come as Democrats struggle to determine the best way to address record-high gas prices, a growing political liability for the party ahead of the midterm elections.

The details: Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) announced yesterday that the subcommittee will hold an oversight hearing on April 6 titled “Gouged at the Gas Station: Big Oil and America’s Pain at the Pump.”

The committee said the following six executives have agreed to testify:

  • David Lawler, chairman and president of BP America
  • Michael K. Wirth, chairman and CEO of Chevron
  • Richard E. Muncrief, president and CEO of Devon Energy
  • Darren Woods, CEO of ExxonMobil 
  • Scott D. Sheffield, CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources
  • Gretchen Watkins, president of Shell USA

“Americans across the country are suffering from the skyrocketing cost of gasoline while some [of] the nation’s largest oil companies are reporting record high profits,” DeGette said in a statement. “We will not sit back and allow the fossil fuel industry to take advantage of the American people and gouge them at the pump.”

The committee's announcement came hours after House Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said in a statement that executives from EOG Resources, Devon Energy and Occidental Petroleum had declined to testify at a hearing on April 5. 

The hearing will be canceled as a result, Grijalva said, adding that the oil companies' refusal to appear “tells us all we need to know — that cries for more drilling and looser regulations are nothing more than another age-old attempt to line their own pockets.” 

It wasn't immediately clear why executives agreed to testify before one committee but not the other. Lisa Adams, a spokeswoman for Devon Energy, the only company targeted by both panels, declined to comment on why the company accepted one invitation but not the other.

“We welcome the opportunity to speak to the House of Energy and Commerce Committee on April 6, and hope for an open, transparent, and collaborative discussion,” Adams said in an email to The Climate 202.

A BP spokesman said Lawler plans to testify that Russia's invasion of Ukraine underscores the need to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy.

Deja vu

This is not the first time that Democrats have hauled oil company executives to Capitol Hill. The House Oversight and Reform Committee held a blockbuster six-hour hearing in October on the fossil fuel industry's alleged role in spreading disinformation about climate change.

House Oversight Subcommittee on Environment Chair Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who organized that hearing with Oversight Chair Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), said he welcomed the additional congressional scrutiny.

“The more public pressure we can put on these Big Oil CEOs, the better,” Khanna said in a statement to The Climate 202, adding, “It’s not right that these companies are raking in billions of dollars and using the profits to reward shareholders. They should have to answer for rising energy costs that are hurting American consumers.”

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Commerce Committee has also invited executives from ExxonMobil, BP and Pioneer Natural Resources to a hearing it is planning on “The Corrosive Effect of Elevated Petroleum Prices on American Commerce and Consumers.” It's unclear when and whether that hearing will happen.

Democrats scramble on gas prices

The flurry of activity comes as House Democrats continue to seek legislative strategies for reducing prices at the pump. The national average price of unleaded regular gasoline was $4.24 on Monday, according to AAA.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) used her leadership meetings on Monday night to solicit feedback on the best approaches, Punchbowl News reported. Democrats are considering a variety of options, including direct consumer rebates, a federal gas tax holiday and a tax on oil companies' “windfall” profits, The Climate 202 previously reported.

Four House Democrats are sending a letter today to Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) urging them to provide direct cash rebates for consumers while repealing some of the tax subsidies flowing to oil and gas companies.

“A rebate to consumers is among the best and most efficient tools we have to put more money back in the hands of Americans struggling to make ends meet in the face of high gas prices,” says the letter from Reps. Sean Casten (Ill.), Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Donald McEachin (Va.) and Katie Porter (Calif.).

Meanwhile, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Khanna will hold a news conference today on their legislation to tax the “windfall” profits that oil companies have reaped amid the soaring crude prices sparked by the war in Ukraine.

The news conference on the “Big Oil Windfall Profits Tax Act” is scheduled for 1 p.m. Eastern in the area outside the Capitol known as the “Senate swamp.”

Agency alert

Oil industry blasts Interior’s delay on five-year offshore leasing plan

The oil and gas industry on Tuesday warned that the Interior Department's delay in unveiling a new five-year plan for its offshore leasing program could lead to steep declines in production, employment and government revenue.

The American Petroleum Institute and National Ocean Industries Association wrote in a report that Interior has not yet proposed its next five-year offshore leasing program, which must be in place by July 1. The program must be set before new sales can occur. 

“Acting now on a five-year program is one common sense step the administration can take to restore certainty for American producers and send a message that America is open for energy investment,” Frank Macchiarola, API's senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs, said on a call with reporters Tuesday, citing energy concerns amid the crisis in Ukraine. 

NOIA President Erik Milito agreed, saying the Biden administration talks about “the need to produce more oil and natural gas in the United States, but if you go down the path the Biden administration is heading on in the Gulf of Mexico, we’re going to have a decline of about 500 barrels per day.” 

Asked about the report, Interior spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz did not provide a timeline for the release of a new five-year plan but noted that the industry holds existing leases.

“The Interior Department is actively developing its five-year plan for the offshore program,” Schwartz said in an email to The Climate 202. “In the meantime, of the more than 11 million acres of offshore federal waters already under lease, more than three-quarters (75.58% or 8.29 million acres) are unused and non-producing.” 

International climate

Governments are not living up to their climate policy promises

The climate policies of G-20 nations, which make up about 80 percent of global emissions, are lagging behind their ambitious emissions reduction goals, according to an analysis from the energy research firm BloombergNEF, Ben German reports for Axios. 

“Government pledges often get the headlines and promises made around COP26 last year were impressive,” BloombergNEF policy head Victoria Cuming said in a statement. “But talk is cheap — none of the G-20 countries has implemented sufficient concrete incentives and regulations to achieve what’s been promised.”

The research firm ranked the G-20 nations on a scale of zero to 100 percent in several areas, including power and transportation. It found the most progress within the power sector, with an average score of 60 percent. 

At the same time, the firm found significant differences between countries. The European Union and the United Kingdom averaged 75 percent for their overall scores, while the United States jumped to 57 percent and China slipped to 59 percent. 

World delegates fail to strike biodiversity deal amid disagreements

International negotiations for an ambitious biodiversity deal to combat nature loss came to a close in Switzerland on Tuesday with little consensus, Emma Farge reports for Reuters. 

The meeting in Geneva, which included about 1,000 delegates from 164 countries, was meant to finalize wording for the initiative before the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity later this year, where countries are expected to ratify a deal to protect plant and animal species threatened by extinction. 

Its framework, which is comparable to the 2015 Paris climate accord, remains unresolved for a number of reasons. One is that the delegates could not settle on whether they should aim for 2030 or 2050 in reaching the biodiversity goals. They also disagreed on how the efforts would be financed, with some developing countries calling on wealthy nations to provide up to $700 billion in funding each year by 2030. 

Negotiators did agree to continue talks in Kenya in June, ahead of the next conference. 

Pressure points

Climate change is making pollen season even worse

According to a study, pollen season across the country is starting earlier and becoming more intense because of human-caused climate change, The Post’s Kasha Patel reports. 

The analysis found that under a high greenhouse emissions scenario, the pollen season could start as much as 40 days earlier in the spring and last up to 19 days longer than its current duration. And, in the most affected parts of the nation, pollen levels could triple. 

While the entire country is expected to see an increase in pollen from grass by the end of the century, the season shift will be felt more in the North than in the South because of larger rises in temperature. 

Under a moderate emissions scenario, “we can avoid about half of the changes in pollen season severity,” said William Anderegg, a plant ecologist at the University of Utah who was not involved in the study.

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