NYC Continues Tone-Deaf Divestment Efforts From the Industry Supporting COVID-19 Response
The U.S. energy industry is facing unprecedented challenges: an international oil price war, a global pandemic that has not only changed our way of life but depressed economy activity and transport, and the implementation of protocols that ensure social distancing while maintaining essential operations. But even in these challenging and uncertain times, the industry is stepping up. Operators are finding ways to do whatever they can to support those battling COVID-19 on the front lines, from converting operations to develop protective gear for healthcare workers to rallying to raise donations for direct relief.
And yet, somewhat inexplicitly, there are some New York lawmakers and activists looking to instead take advantage of this crisis to push for a politicized stance against this very industry. Even more perplexing, the push is coming from the state at the epicenter of the fight against this pandemic.
At a time when COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the country and the world undergoes a once-in-a-generation crisis, members of the New York City Council introduced a resolution last week calling on the banks, asset managers and insurance companies with which the city government does business to divest from oil, gas and coal to, as they say, put fossil fuels in our past. This resolution will now move to their environmental protection committee and, if passed, does little more than send a message on the city’s view on the topic.
But the question remains: why are New York City’s leaders surfacing this issue now?
The same can be said at the state level, where earlier this month pro-divestment groups Go Fossil Free and 350.org made noise about “all the support” a watered-down divestment bill has among New York state senators and imploring them to pass it.
Many of these same groups have also taken to virtual Earth Day celebrations, holding all day and even 72 hour long virtual webinars to increase calls for divestment from the very same companies providing critical supplies and energy to fuel our response to the pandemic. Others have gone so far as to push headlines like “Fossil Fuel Companies Are Suffering Under the Coronavirus. Good.”
On a good day, these efforts ignore the fact that divestment does nothing for the environment and that giving up investments in a sector of the economy that provides roughly 80 percent of U.S. energy consumption is simply bad economics. But at a time of COVID-19, they show something else. This crisis is a time to focus on solutions and to give back, whatever we can, to those on the front lines. While activists spend their time on all day webinars, energy companies are focusing on solutions.
Do a quick search online and you will see countless examples underway.
Chevron has doubled down on its commitments to support teachers and students in high-need school districts. ExxonMobil and the Global Center for Medical Innovation have initiated a joint project to spur development of personal protection equipment for health care workers, such as face shields and masks. Baker Hughes is using its 3D printing capabilities to make parts for protective gear. BP has donated over $2 million to the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response. Williams has pledged $1 million to provide community support. Range Resources provided N95 masks and safety apparel to its local health system. And let’s not forget the thousands of men and woman who continue to work around the clock to perform essential services that maintain access to stable and reliable energy so that our response to COVID-19 is not disrupted.
These are just a few examples of efforts underway to help combat the impacts of this public health crisis, while providing safe, reliable energy to consumers and protecting our workforce.
Leaders in government in New York and across the country have a lot to work through right now: how to support residents losing their livelihoods, how to keep healthcare workers safe, and how to support teachers and students as the world moves remote. The oil and gas industry continues to help, investing in technology and solutions to support our men and women at the front lines of response efforts.
We are reminded in this moment of the value of real solutions. Empty gesture divestment from an industry helping to fuel our response and recovery is bad politics on a good day, and it is plain irresponsible in the midst of this global crisis.
Jeff Eshelman is Senior Vice President of Operations and Public Affairs for the Independent Petroleum Association of America.