The contentious and partisan debate in Washington over climate change policy may be shifting in a new direction—one that is driven not by partisanship but by a group of bipartisan members of Congress and the engagement and leadership from the private sector.
While the Green New Deal has dominated the political news with much fanfare and minimal results, there has been a much less publicized discussion in the House of Representatives between Republicans and Democrats on key committees about the causes and impact of climate change and what prudent steps need to be taken to address the issue.
Shell and ExxonMobil along with Chevron, British Petroleum and other fossil fuel companies are taking the lead within the industry in recognizing the problem and working toward a realistic solution. These companies are pushing for a more aggressive approach to combating climate change, including their support for the Paris Climate Agreement, carbon pricing, fuel mandates and the need to reduce methane gas emissions.
Shell has announced that it would base in part their executives’ pay on reducing the company’s carbon emissions. Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden has written, “The need for urgent action in response to climate change has become more obvious since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. As a result, society’s expectations in this area have changed, and Shell’s views have also evolved.”
Shortly after the November election, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods met with Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the new chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, to discuss several climate change initiatives, including ExxonMobil’s endorsement of the Paris Climate Agreement; funding research into advanced biofuels; and spending $1 million to support a carbon tax. ExxonMobil has announced that the company has invested $8 billion on energy efficiency and emissions reduction. Mr. Woods personally urged President Trump to keep the U.S. a party to the Paris Accord.
During the past twenty years, oil and gas companies and their trade associations have largely opposed climate change legislation. The debates before the Congress have been intense with no interest at compromise.
After years of opposition, environmental activists have been skeptical and quick to aggressively challenge the industry’s commitment. In late October of 2018, the New York Attorney General sued ExxonMobil, accusing the company of misleading investors on how it applied internal proxy carbon costs for evaluating oil and gas projects.
It is not surprising that with Democrats now in the majority, climate change will be a significant issue in the House of Representatives. On various committees, Democrats have already held more than a dozen hearings that focused on the impact of climate change. Chairwoman Johnson has made the issue one of her highest priorities. Her first committee hearing examined the scientific causes of climate change and possible solutions.
What is surprising has been the engagement of Republican members of the Science Committee. After years of largely partisan debates over climate science, there is a growing bipartisan consensus that supports the scientific findings and considers meaningful steps to address the issue, including investments in new technologies and encouraging partnerships between industry and the federal government.
A new bipartisan Select Committee on the Climate Crisis has been formed in the House to investigate climate change, hold hearings and issue findings on how climate change is impacting the nation’s economy. Senate Democrats have announced a companion committee without Republican support.
While the debate over climate change has not been a high priority for the Republican leadership in the Senate, funding research for energy innovation has gained support. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced to fund new technologies to promote the capture, utilization and storage of carbon dioxide emissions.
What may be the most significant change in the debate over climate change has been the response of the of the private sector, including the business community. One of the strongest players to emerge has been The Climate Leadership Council, whose membership includes many of the country’s most important corporate and intellectual leaders. Led by two former secretaries of state, two former heads of the Federal Reserve and multiple major corporations, The Council supports a carbon tax on carbon dioxide emissions in exchange for eliminating greenhouse gas regulations and protecting fossil fuel companies from climate liability lawsuits. Most economists have endorsed a carbon tax as the most efficient and effective way to reduce carbon emissions.
While it is never wise to underestimate the harsh partisanship that has taken hold in Washington, the congressional debate over climate change, at least in the House, may be entering a new chapter, one that is less partisan, more inclusive and hopefully more productive.