The Environment and Energy Story You Won’t Hear at House Energy Oversight Hearing or UN Climate Talks

By David Holt
October 28, 2021

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform this week will bring the CEOs of some of the largest energy companies in the world before a hearing that is likely to be more about generating headlines ahead of the U.N. Climate Change Conference than solving our pressing energy and environmental challenges.

That’s unfortunate, because American consumers, farmers and small businesses need help in the face of mounting inflation and surging energy prices – from gasoline to propane and natural gas to electricity. Oil prices have surged past $85 a barrel, natural gas surpassed its highest price in 13 years this month, and gasoline is the highest it has been since 2014.

The Energy Information Administration has forecast a colder winter and sharply higher home heating costs, which a Consumer Energy Alliance analysis found would add an unbelievable $13.6 billion to family energy bills nationwide. For the many Americans on fixed incomes or living below the poverty line, this will make for a tough winter.

We need affordable, reliable energy more than ever, something that should be glaringly obvious when gasoline is nearly $8 a gallon in parts of California,  the well-documented result of governmental policies that put consumers last and have led to some of the nation’s most expensive energy. 

While we appreciate Congressional efforts to keep spurring environmental progress – after all, the U.S. is the unparalleled world leader world in every aspect of emissions reductions  – the irrational focus on eliminating oil and gas does not equal greater reductions. It does, however, mean ever-higher gasoline and electricity prices and the pain that causes. It does mean more frequent brownouts or blackouts, like the developing world (and California) suffers.

Bad energy policies make for a bad economy, period. Good energy and environmental policy spurs innovation and lets companies do what they do best, pushing for ever-greater environmental standards, diversifying our energy economy and making sure we have the the ability to deliver reliable, affordable energy. Our tale of the tape is world-beating emissions reductions because of innovation, technical ingenuity, and energy diversity – including the increased natural gas use and a surge in wind and solar power.

One fact you won’t hear at the hearing: Taken as a group, the four major oil companies – Shell, ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron – already have built or are building 60.2 Gigawatts of wind or solar power. That equals 84% of the 71.5 Gigawatts of new wind and solar power the Energy Information Administration has forecast will be added to the U.S. grid in 2021 and 2022.

They are also investing in other low-carbon technologies like hydrogen, carbon capture and renewable or biofuels. As engineering and research giants, these companies’ innovations have yielded tens of thousands of patents and improvements in the quality of life for American consumers.

Trying to take these companies off of the table in the hope of recreating the Big Tobacco financial bonanza – as a small, coordinated group of plaintiffs’ lawyers, activist academics, faux journalists and the anti-energy lobby hope to do – should be called what it is: economic and environmental self-sabotage.

In fact, the politically motivated attacks on oil and gas, including the federal leasing moratorium this year, are one reason investment in the sector has lagged since the COVID shock. That means we have less energy despite having become the world’s largest oil and gas producer, and the second-largest renewable power producer. We are reduced, once again, to begging OPEC for more oil and gas.

Without a course correction, Americans will soon see how higher natural gas prices lead to higher fertilizer and chemical costs, which in turn leads to things like a CO2 shortage – vital for the food and beverage industry – and higher corn prices, crucial for livestock. What follows is higher prices for beef, cereal and cooking oils – and thousands more household staples.

This is happening in real time in the UK, which will host the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow starting on Halloween. British factories have been shut, drivers have been forced to wait in long fuel lines and natural gas prices have more than quadrupled while the wholesale electricity price surged 4,900% at one point. Europe is facing similar challenges, owing largely to similar policies that put affordability and reliability and therefore, people, last.

Some U.S. politicians want to replicate these policies here in the name of showing leadership to the world. But our leaders should take a minute to reflect because our environmental leadership record is already clear, while China is still the biggest greenhouse gas emitter and has only promised to stop increasing its emissions by 2030. Twenty-three of the world’s 25 dirtiest cities are in China, which as a group emit 52% of the world’s urban carbon. Why hasn’t any Congressional committee held a hearing on that? 

Our elected leaders will not be judged at the midterm elections by the commitments they make at foreign conferences where the routine is to hail China for its egregious emissions, and criticize America. They won’t be remembered for grandstanding at a Congressional hearing that is little more than a set-up designed to please anti-energy zealots.

No, voters will remember the economic agony they felt at the gas pump or the supermarket, and take it out on the elected leaders they hold responsible. It’s time for our leaders to collaborate and put consumers first to ensure we can keep the lights on, our homes warm, our crops bountiful and our environment ever-improving.

 

David Holt is president of Consumer Energy Alliance, a U.S. consumer energy and environment advocate supporting affordable, reliable energy for working families, seniors and businesses across the country.

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