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The Climate 202

As a TV doctor, Mehmet Oz embraced climate science. Now as a Senate candidate, he denies it.

The Climate 202

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

🚨 Today, President Biden will announce the release of 15 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. More on that below. But first:

As a TV doctor, Mehmet Oz embraced climate science. Now as a Senate candidate, he denies it.

As a celebrity TV doctor, Mehmet Oz used his platform to spread awareness of how climate change is harming public health by fueling extreme heat, wildfires, floods and infectious-disease outbreaks.

But as a Republican candidate for a Senate seat in Pennsylvania, a key battleground in the fight for control of Congress, Oz is now denying the scientific consensus on climate change and downplaying the dangers of Earth's rapid warming.

While climate change has not emerged as a top issue in the contest between Oz and his Democratic rival, John Fetterman, it is nonetheless highlighting the shifting environmental stances of Oz, who is a medical doctor, not a climate scientist.

The details: In 2017, Oz co-wrote a column titled “Climate change creating public health issues” with Mike Roizen, then the chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.

  • In response to a question from a reader, Oz and Roizen cited a report from 11 top medical societies, representing more than half of U.S. physicians, about how climate change is threatening public health.
  • “The report says that climate change is increasing the risk for cardiorespiratory illness associated with wildfires and air pollution; heat injury from extreme heat events; the spread of infectious diseases, such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease; and health and mental health problems caused by floods and extreme weather,” they wrote.

However, during a March campaign event in Erie, Pa., Oz rejected the scientific consensus on global warming.

  • Oz claimed that liberal climate policies are hurting the fossil fuel industry “for no good reason except the ideology that carbon is bad — which itself is a lie. Carbon dioxide, my friends, [is] 0.04 percent of our air. That’s not the problem.”
  • The overwhelming majority of scientists agree that carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and other human activity is the primary driver of climate change.

An Oz campaign spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment, while Roizen was not immediately available for an interview.

Asked for comment, Fetterman campaign spokesman Joe Calvello criticized Oz's changing stance on climate change and said Fetterman “absolutely agrees with the scientific consensus that climate change is real and caused by burning fossil fuels.”

Flip-flopping on fracking

Meanwhile, both Oz and Fetterman have shifted their positions on fracking in Pennsylvania, which is second only to Texas in natural gas production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In a 2014 column, Oz wrote that fracking should be banned until its potential harmful health effects have been fully studied.

“We wonder how eager the leaders of the natural gas industry would be,” he wrote, “to drink well water from a farm next to one of their drilling sites.”

But in recent months, Oz has vocally advocated for fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, a technique that involves blasting water mixed with sand and chemicals into wells to extract more oil and gas.

“Back off, Biden! Give us freedom to frack!” Oz said in a March TikTok video that shows him filling up his car with gasoline.

Fetterman, for his part, endorsed a fracking moratorium during his unsuccessful Senate campaign in 2016. But the Democrat, now the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, has since dropped his support for the policy.

Calvello said Fetterman “has not supported a fracking moratorium or ban” since Pennsylvania adopted tougher regulations on fracking in October 2016.

Courting conservative voters

Jeff Brauer, a political science professor at Keystone College in La Plume, Pa., said Oz appears to have shifted his stances on environmental issues to woo moderate and conservative voters in the battleground state.

“For conservative PA voters, climate change is not a concern and they feel it has been overblown,” Brauer said in an email. “For them, fracking is an extension of those beliefs, and they think fracking should be encouraged/allowed as much as possible. And for many moderate PA voters, who ultimately decide statewide races, fracking and all the industries around it are an economic lifeline.”

It remains to be seen, however, whether the strategy will pay off at the ballot box.

“As for the impact on the election,” Brauer said, “it will be a matter of how these issues lend to or compete with the top issues of this election cycle, especially the economy, abortion, and democracy.”

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race a “toss up,” as Fetterman faces questions about his health after suffering a stroke in May.

President Biden will travel to Philadelphia on Thursday to fundraise for Fetterman. The two candidates will face off in their one and only debate on Oct. 25.

Pressure points

Biden to announce release of more petroleum from strategic reserve

President Biden on Wednesday will announce the release of 15 million additional barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in a bid to lower gasoline prices three weeks before the midterm elections, as Republicans hammer Democrats over rising costs, The Washington Post's Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Evan Halper report.

The move comes as part of an existing plan to release 180 million barrels of crude oil into the market throughout the year. It follows an announcement by OPEC Plus, a coalition of oil-producing nations led by Russia and Saudi Arabia, that it will slash oil production by 2 million barrels per day, threatening further price increases in countries already grappling with high costs.

Biden has accused major energy companies of price-gouging consumers at the pump. Industry officials respond that the administration is cherry-picking numbers from their balance sheets, ignoring the stretches early in the pandemic when the firms were losing money. Critics, including many Republicans, have also argued that Biden is misusing the reserve for his own political purposes, rather than limiting its use to a true national crisis as intended.

In her briefing Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted that gas prices have recently started falling again, dropping by five cents over the past week to a national average of $3.87 per gallon. But in Nevada, a state where Democrats are at risk of losing a Senate seat and polls show a tight governor’s race, a gallon of gas costs $5.23 on average.

International climate

At war, Russia aims to claim Ukraine’s land — and its carbon emissions

Countries usually try to lower their carbon emissions, not increase them. But this year, Ukraine and Russia are battling over who gets to claim the emissions of Crimea and other Ukrainian territory that the Kremlin has occupied by force, The Post’s Michael Birnbaum reports.

The dispute will peak at next month's U.N. climate summit in Egypt, where both countries are expected to submit official emissions numbers that include Crimea and other occupied territory — a move both countries see as key to asserting their legal rights over the region.

If U.N. members sign off on documents in which Russia lays claim to Crimean emissions, that would help normalize using force to change borders, said Alex Riabchyn, a former Ukraine deputy energy minister who has been part of the Ukrainian delegations to the U.N. climate conferences since 2015.

“It’s not about the climate arguments — it’s about our territory. Russia is trying to use all venues to legitimize the illegal annexation,” Riabchyn said.

Agency alert

Interior to hold first-ever offshore wind lease sale in Pacific

The Interior Department on Tuesday announced plans to hold its first-ever offshore wind lease sale in the Pacific Ocean, Ella Nilsen reports for CNN.

The agency will open five lease areas off the coast of central and northern California on Dec. 6. The lease areas will stretch more than 373,000 acres and could eventually produce more than 4.5 gigawatts of energy — enough to power more than 1.5 million homes.

Since the Pacific is deeper than the Atlantic, the areas are expected to support floating offshore wind turbines that are tethered to the sea floor. President Biden has set targets of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 and 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind energy by 2035.

Climate in the courts

New Jersey sues Big Oil for climate damages

New Jersey on Tuesday sued ExxonMobil, Chevron and other major oil and gas companies for allegedly misleading consumers about the role of fossil fuels in causing climate change, Jennifer Hijazi reports for Bloomberg News.

The lawsuit alleges that energy giants knew for decades that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming but that they continued to produce and sell to consumers. As a result, New Jersey has been forced to pay billions of dollars to clean up after climate-fueled disasters such as Hurricanes Sandy and Ida, according to the complaint.

The suit, which comes days before the 10-year anniversary of Sandy, also names BP, ConocoPhillips, Shell and the American Petroleum Institute as defendants. Nearly two-dozen similar suits have already been filed by cities, states and counties, but none of the cases has reached trial at the local level yet.

Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., an attorney with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who represents Chevron, said in a statement that the energy company “believes that the claims asserted are legally and factually meritless, and will demonstrate that in court. In the meantime, Chevron will continue working with other stakeholders in the public and private sectors to craft real solutions to global climate change.”

In the atmosphere


Thanks for reading!