API chief Gerard on climate ‘challenge,’ being a father of 8

Source: Kellie Lunney, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, September 25, 2017

On paper, American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard is a Washington lobbyist straight from central casting.

Law school. Experience as a staffer in the House and Senate. Co-founder of a lobby shop. President and CEO of three major industry groups.

But what Gerard, 59, is most proud of is being a parent. He’s a passionate advocate for adoption and foster care, and father to eight children ranging in age from 12 to 32, including twin boys adopted from Guatemala. And that’s not all. He also has four grandchildren.

“As I often tell people, we have a focus group right in our own home,” Gerard told E&E News. “If I need to talk to millennials, or children, talk to a spouse, boys, girls — whatever we need — we’ve got it.”

The Idaho native came to Washington in 1981 as an intern for former Rep. George Hansen (R-Idaho), who soon offered him a full-time job. Gerard got his bachelor’s degree by taking classes at night at George Washington University. A few years later, he moved across Capitol Hill for a job with another Idaho Republican, former Sen. James McClure, who then chaired the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Gerard kept up the night classes, chasing a GW law degree.

“So I had six years of night school to finish my undergraduate and law degrees while I was working on Capitol Hill,” he said. “It wasn’t easy.”

The hard work paid off. Gerard co-founded and led a lobby shop with McClure before moving to trade groups. He ran the National Mining Association and the American Chemistry Council before heading to API in 2008.

Gerard sat down with E&E News recently to chat about energy security, climate change and his family.

How have energy issues changed over the years?

If you step back just across the last two or three decades, the United States was really operating under a broader vision of scarcity, that our resources were finite, that they were running out, so we needed to figure out a broader-term energy policy. We were focused on things like importation of natural gas, and now, today, we see a very fundamental shift that’s just occurred in the past six, seven years.

Now we are talking about LNG [liquefied natural gas] exports, crude oil exports, gasoline exports. I think that’s also changed the basic conversation surrounding energy generally, to where now we’re really focused on what the future of the United States should look like. Our hope is, it helps to do away with some of the division of polarization, and brings us back to a common set of objectives.

We all agree we want affordable, reliable, low-cost, cleaner energy in this country. And we’re accomplishing a lot of that now, so how do we set policy to allow that to continue moving forward?

Does the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” theme help or hurt that objective?

Well, I think clearly the focus on energy is helpful. You know, a lot of people interpret the word differently. But the reality is the United States is in a very different position today than it was just a decade ago. So I think it’s helpful to have that broader conversation. This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans and independents and socialists, or however people like to label themselves. This is fundamentally about the well-being of the U.S. economy and its positive impacts for the American people and the consumer. We produce more energy here in the United States, thus making that energy that goes to the consumer more affordable than it was a few years ago.

Is U.S. energy production sustainable?

It is sustainable because of the vast resource we’ve found in this country due to our technological development. In fact, if we can continue to improve it through doing it more efficiently and effectively than we ever have, our costs associated with producing that energy continue to go down out of need. We really are at a turning point in history when you think about it; we’re right in the middle of that transition from scarcity to abundance. I think this generation, these few years, will really judge how successful we’ll be based on the policies that are implemented.

Is energy independence achievable?

Well, when we think of the objective we ought to set out, we call it energy security. How do we become energy secure as a nation, because there will be some times when we are better off to import a product because it might be less costly. So instead of trying to suggest we need to be independent from everybody else, what we need to be is energy secure, so when needed we can produce our own without disruption as a result of world events or global markets. We are fast getting to that point.

Did you know that you wanted to adopt children?

Well, I’ve grown up with adoption [he has an adopted sister]. My good wife, she has three nephews who are adopted from different parts of the world. So we grew up in a culture where family is very important to us. We’ve always kind of had it in the back of our minds.

One of the things I do that I am passionate about is chair the [nonprofit] Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, which is a bipartisan caucus in the Congress [Congressional Coalition on Adoption]. One of the great personal satisfactions I have in this town is that we work on issues together in a bipartisan way, but it’s really focused on children and foster care.

Each summer, we bring about a dozen foster youth to Washington and get them internships. We raise the money to support them. Then they write their policy recommendations based on their personal experience, on how we can improve the foster care system.

Do the administration’s efforts to roll back regulations threaten the industry’s success in reducing greenhouse gases?

The view of our industry? Regulation is appropriate, but it should be smart regulation. What’s the difference? Smart regulation is regulatory activity that gives you certainty, but doesn’t add unnecessary cost or impede the very activity you’re trying to accomplish. In our last few years, we’ve had excessive regulation on the part of the previous administration.

As we look going forward now, we’re trying to get some regulations revised to truly reflect the reality. Methane is a good example. If you’ve got a regulatory regime where you are able to reduce methane emissions, and you are doing that primarily because of the energy industry’s advanced technologies, why would you come in and add costs just because you can through regulatory process?

Let’s be smart about our regulation. Look at the Clean Power Plan the previous administration pushed forward. It was never put into law, but what happened? We were already reducing our carbon emissions faster than anybody else in the world without the regulatory regime.

We shouldn’t regulate merely because we can regulate. We should regulate where appropriate, and make it smart regulation so we protect the American people, the environment and our workforce, but we do it in a way that benefits the American people with affordable, reliable energy.

Easier said than done.

It is, but that is the right direction we should be going.

Do you believe in climate change?

We believe the best approach to that discussion is to focus on solutions. And I say that intentionally because it’s important that we get over what the debate has been over the past decade in this country about, “Are you a believer, or are you a denier?”

That’s why our approach is to move beyond that and say, “Wait a minute, let’s all agree that if it’s a challenge, then let’s focus on the solution.”

So if it’s a challenge, it’s a problem?

Well, if it’s a challenge, then what is the solution to that? We believe strongly, as we have already demonstrated, that we can reduce carbon emissions in this country by paying attention to it, by looking at the natural gas production that has brought us to a near 30-year low. So that’s part of the solution.

This isn’t a religious test. It’s a domestic challenge as it relates to energy. When the president went to Paris, we believe his focus should have been on “Hey, here’s our experience in the United States. We’re now reducing carbon emissions, this might be something everybody else can learn from.”

If you look at the developing world — and this is where my passion for children and [helping] youth intersects closely — we have a billion-and-a-half people in the world today who don’t have the benefit of energy.

If our real goal, longer-term, is not only to give them an opportunity to survive, to compete, get educated, we should focus on energy. How do we do that? Well, think of that clean-burning natural gas we produce in great abundance right here at home. Just think if we can export some of that, and make it portable into some of these other societies to give people an energy opportunity.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.