Energy executives respond to Democrats’ prosecution threats

Source: By Timothy Cama, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, February 24, 2020

Dozens of oil and natural gas company executives are pushing back against Democratic presidential candidates’ proposals to prosecute them, saying the real “criminal” act would be not to produce fossil fuels.

In an open letter organized by the Western Energy Alliance and printed today as an advertisement in The New York Times, the executives of mainly small Western oil and gas drillers are taking aim at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former Vice President Joe Biden.

The three leading presidential contenders have said fossil fuel executives should be prosecuted for the fuels’ contributions to climate change and pollution.

The executives today wrote: “It would be criminal not to produce the reliable, affordable energy that keeps people warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and gets them to school to learn and work to provide for their families.”

The energy officials are trying to flip the script, contending that since fossil fuels have improved lives around the world, it would be dangerous to get rid of them.

They focus in particular on natural gas, which has lower carbon dioxide emissions than the coal it is replacing for electricity generation, but which causes methane emissions that also warm the Earth.

“The clean-burning natural gas we produce helps improve air quality and lowers greenhouse has emissions. Greater use of natural gas electricity is the number one reason the United States has reduced more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country,” the executives wrote.

“By exporting our clean, abundant natural gas, we can help lift out of poverty the one billion people worldwide without access to electricity.”

Among the signers is Harold Hamm, a close ally and sometimes adviser to President Trump who founded Continental Resources Inc.

Other signers include Mark Pearson, CEO of Liberty Resources LLC, and Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance.

“That rhetoric that oil and natural gas executives are criminal has been hanging out there for several months now without being answered,” Sgamma told E&E News.

“It’s so ludicrous that you kind of dismiss it,” she said. “But then you see that some people actually believe that. And I think it’s largely because people take us for granted. They don’t realize how much oil and gas does for them.”

Sgamma said the Denver-based group decided to use the “criminal” terminology precisely because the candidates used it. “We’re just addressing rhetoric with similar rhetoric,” she said.

Representatives for Sanders, Warren and Biden did not respond to requests for comment on the oil and gas executives’ letter.

Sanders, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination to run against Trump, has been one of the most outspoken candidates in advocating for the prosecution of fossil fuel executives, and outlined his vision in a climate plan released last year.

“The fossil fuel industry is probably criminally liable, because they have lied and lied and lied, when they had the evidence that their carbon products were destroying the planet, and maybe we should think about prosecuting them, as well,” Sanders said at a November debate.

Warren targeted oil and gas executives in a November plan specifically meant to address “corporate perjury,” which she said included downplaying climate change, something she accused Exxon Mobil Corp. and others of doing.

“Put them in jail,” Biden said at a New Hampshire event in December, referring to fossil fuel officials. “I’m not joking about this.”

Sgamma said she doesn’t take the threat seriously, but sees it as a larger effort to turn up the heat against fossil fuels.

“It’s just such ridiculous rhetoric,” she said. “We’re providing a product that is not just legal, but the foundation of everything we see around us in our daily lives.”