BP throws its support behind cap-and-invest program for cars

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, March 1, 2020

Oil and gas giant BP PLC is throwing its support behind a proposed cap-and-invest program for cars in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

The move, which comes after BP pledged to pursue more aggressive climate policy, could soften opposition to the program from groups tied to the Koch network.

At issue is an opinion piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch by Susan Dio, chairman and president of BP America.

Dio called on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and other leaders in Richmond to embrace the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a proposed cap-and-invest program for the transportation sector in 11 states and the District of Columbia.

She argued that the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-invest program for the power sector in the Northeast, has provided a successful model for the region to follow. Northam began the process of rejoining RGGI after Democrats took over the General Assembly in November.

“Over the past 10 years, the RGGI has proved successful in reducing power sector emissions,” Dio wrote. “This should give policymakers confidence that emissions can be reduced in transportation as well without inflating energy costs or hurting local economies.”

She continued: “Together, the power and transportation sectors account for well over half of all emissions in our economy. These two plans combined would put Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states on a course to cap and reduce those emissions.”

The piece came after Bernard Looney, who took over as BP CEO earlier this month, pledged to put the company on track to be carbon neutral by 2050 (Greenwire, Feb. 12).

Looney stressed that the fossil fuel company needs to reinvent itself amid increasing pressure from investors and the public to address climate change.

“We have got to change, and change profoundly,” he told an audience in London. “We have to because the world is changing fast and so are society’s expectations of us.”

Sources said BP’s support for the Transportation and Climate Initiative could help counteract opposition to the program from groups affiliated with Charles Koch, the billionaire CEO of Koch Industries Inc., a conglomerate involved in the manufacturing and refining of petroleum and chemicals. (His brother David Koch served as executive vice president of the conglomerate until retiring due to health issues in 2018; he died last year.)

“We’ve heard a lot of objections from groups affiliated with Koch Industries. So I think they’re increasingly looking pretty isolated, even within their industry,” said Dan Gatti, senior transportation analyst in the Clean Vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“So it’s really just now a part of the oil industry that is still opposing this. And they are fighting quite hard,” Gatti added.

Chris Dempsey, director of the advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts, agreed with this assessment.

“You’re seeing the world divide into companies that are a little more enlightened and understand the gravity of the climate crisis versus companies that are sticking their heads in the sand and saying that these policies don’t make sense,” Dempsey said.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) announced in December that he was withdrawing from the planning process for the Transportation and Climate Initiative, saying the program would raise gas prices for low-income consumers (Climatewire, Dec. 19, 2019).

The governor’s rhetoric mirrored that of 18 conservative think tanks, which had released a letter blasting the program as “a carbon dioxide tax being implemented through a gas tax.”

Sununu is the brother of one of the think tank leaders. James Sununu serves as board chairman of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, which is a member of the State Policy Network, a Koch-funded network of think tanks across the country that promotes conservative and libertarian policies.

The center does not disclose its donors. But tax filings show that it has received $23,250 from the State Policy Network and $288,600 from the Koch-affiliated Donors Capital Fund, according to SourceWatch.

In her opinion piece, Dio sought to rebut the notion that the Transportation and Climate Initiative would harm consumers through higher prices at the gas pump. She wrote that the program would help reduce carbon emissions “without inflating energy costs or hurting local economies,” adding that “states don’t have to choose between the economy or the environment.”

Gatti, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, predicted that it would become less socially acceptable for fossil fuel companies to oppose climate policy in the United States in the coming decades — a trend that is already evident in Europe.

“European oil companies just come from a culture in which outright climate denial is not culturally acceptable,” he said. “I think with both [Royal Dutch Shell PLC] and BP, it’s just not tolerated in a European context to be rejecting the science of climate change. And that puts pressure on them to at least say that they’re on the side of solutions.”