As a former oil executive, I can tell you Biden is not at war with oil. The industry has already been moving towards green energy

shale oil workers
  • Renewable energy is the future, building more jobs and economic stability.
  • Most Democrats and Republicans want climate to be a top government priority.
  • Oil company leaders know they’ll benefit from a faster energy transition.
  • Katie Mehnert is founder and CEO of ALLY Energy, an online platform for the energy community. Mehnert is a former global director at BP and Shell.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

As soon as President Biden began taking action on the environment, some lawmakers rushed to slam him for allegedly killing jobs in some sort of “war on oil.” They’ve been keeping this up in a steady, misguided drumbeat. This opportunism isn’t just politics as usual. It’s bad for the nation, the economy, and the world.

Biden is not “at war” with the fossil fuel industry. Society is at war with greenhouse gas emissions. And increasingly, the markets are turning against those emissions as well. 

Rather than fighting each other, we should all be working together. The crumbling of Texas’ power grid in the recent storm – in which problems plagued all energy sources including coal, natural gas, wind and nuclear – served as a powerful reminder

In the big picture, jobs in the oil industry have been falling in recent years. Far from being saved, the coal industry has been facing “some of its darkest days, plagued by falling demand, bankruptcies and job losses,” CNN reported.

Meanwhile, renewables are accelerating. Quartz declared 2020 “the year clean energy started to beat big oil,” most notably when wind and solar company NextEra became more valuable than Exxon and Chevron. (As Bloomberg put it, “clean power eclipses oil.”)  

I grew up as a second generation leader in oil and gas. I built a career in energy, spending time as a global health safety and environment leader at two oil giants. I have tremendous gratitude for the people who built the carbon infrastructure that has powered the world and delivered a huge number of the products that fill our daily lives. However, I’m also part of the effort to move the world into a  new era of renewable energy. 

I’m far from alone in this. In fact, you may be surprised by how much company I have. Despite stereotypes about Texas and the energy community wanting to produce and sell as much oil as humanly possible, many of us want to speed up the transition. I see this daily through interactions at ALLY, our digital community for a diverse workforce in all forms of energy. 

It shows up in survey data as well. In a poll last year by EY, oil executives named “decarbonization and other changes in response to climate change” one of the trends with the “most positive impact” on their company’s business growth.

While certain politicians fixate on oil, Texas has – perhaps quietly – become the “center of the global corporate renewable energy market,” producing more jobs from renewable sources than from coal. Here in Houston where I live, the city is producing a whopping 92% of its power from wind and solar – one of the highest levels of any city in America. 

We also know first-hand some of the drastic effects of climate change. We lived through Hurricane Harvey, a storm experts say was “almost certainly” more devastating because of human-caused warming. My family lost our home and had to be rescued by boat when the Army Corps of Engineers released dams in hopes of preventing even more catastrophic flooding in other parts of the Houston area.

Americans across the political spectrum have made clear that addressing the environment is an essential task of our time. In a Pew survey last year, two-thirds of Americans said the federal government was not doing enough. A recent study by Yale and George Mason University found that most Democrats and Republicans want the climate to be a top government priority. 

The writing’s on the wall. It’s time for lawmakers to read it and stop fighting. People want more green energy, which makes President Biden’s plan to make “the largest investment in history in American innovation” and create “10 million clean energy jobs” so promising.

Those jobs won’t be solely in companies that are exclusively focused on renewable energy. They’ll also be in clean energy projects of big oil companies, which are gaining ground in keeping with the companies’ net-zero targets. In fact, some oil giants are converting themselves into green energy stocks.

But there’s a long way to go. Oil companies can and should do more to join the wave of the future. This will require a burst of new talent, with ideas and innovations to speed up the transition. I’ve even recommended that we hire activists like Greta Thunberg to be a part of the energy sector. Bring them on board, so they can leverage their passion to help. 

When lawmakers trash environmental activists, they’re not helping the oil and gas community. They’re making it harder for us all to find common ground and make advancements together. As Vincent Saubestre, CEO and President for Total EP Research & Technology USA, said in a recent webinar with me, it’s time to end the “Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker approach.” In fact, he said, “We welcome critical allies that will challenge us to go further.” 

It’s time for an all-on-one-team mentality. The people, the markets and the new administration are all pushing in the same direction. Let’s get constructive and cooperate to drive an energy revolution. Our children are counting on us.

Katie Mehnert is CEO of ALLY Energy and Ambassador to the US Department of Energy’s Equity in Energy program. She is author of Grow with the Flow: Embrace Difference, Overcome Fear, and Progress with Purpose.

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It’s time for America to finally take on Big Oil

broken rusted oil pumps rigs
Rusted out ‘pump-jacks’ are viewed on March 26, 2015 in the oil town of Luling, Texas.

  • The US has been giving handouts and subsidies to oil companies for decades.
  • But the government needs to cut off these handouts to the debt-fueled industry to help fight climate change and actually achieve justice.
  • President-elect Joe Biden needs to step up and take a stand against the oil industry.
  • Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Big Oil is on the ropes. The global pandemic has caused people to stop driving and flying, resulting in low prices for crude oil and gasoline, just as the cost of renewable energy becomes competitive.

If President-elect Joe Biden is prepared to keep his campaign promises to protect the climate, then he must use this moment to end subsidies, favors, and bailouts for the oil industry. The fossil fuel industry has for too long benefitted from these corporate handouts and too easily called the shots for the Trump administration.

The oil industry has been exposed

The past year has finally exposed the US oil and gas industry as a debt-fueled Ponzi scheme that loses money when oil prices are too low. Fossil fuel extraction, especially high-cost fracking, is declining due to the pandemic. In the long term, fossil fuels simply cannot compete with cheap renewable electricity that will power the electrification of transportation.

As evidence of the oil industry’s struggles, this month, ExxonMobil and Chevron both announced dramatic cuts in spending on new exploration and production. “We are an industry performing poorly relative to other investment opportunities,” said Chevron’s chief financial officer, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

Most recently, Shell said it would write down the value of its assets by $4.5 billion as it warned of poor earnings. 

Meanwhile, the pressure keeps ramping up on the fossil fuel industry. Just this month, New York state’s $226 billion pension fund said it would divest from fossil fuel stocks. A brand new investment firm led by a longtime technology hedge fund investor launched a proxy battle to nominate four members of Exxon’s 10-member board. And last month, Bank of America followed several major banks in cutting off the crucial flow of financing for Arctic oil drilling.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s oil-soaked administration has mounted a relentless rear-guard effort to save fossil fuels, providing the fossil fuel industry any climate-damaging regulatory rollback or favor they wanted. The Trump administration’s irresponsible rollbacks will send up to 1.8 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere by 2035. 

Yet as the industry withers, the Trump administration has used the pandemic to enable a fossil fuel money grab. An analysis by BailoutWatch, Public Citizen, and Friends of the Earth reveals the fossil fuel industry received up to $15.2 billion in direct economic relief from federal efforts under Trump to sustain the economy through the pandemic. 

That includes at least $5.5 billion, via tax law changes, to benefit 70 money-losing dirty energy companies – a number that’s likely to keep growing – $828 million in direct, subsidized loans, and up to $9.1 billion in forgivable loans to nearly 26,000 companies. Plus, the fossil fuel industry was able to issue nearly $100 billion in corporate debt, a temporary lifeline for the industry’s thanks to the Federal Reserve’s decision to prop up financial markets last spring.

Despite these handouts and safety nets, the industry has shown little interest in taking care of its workers. Oil corporations have laid off more than 100,000 people this year. Exxon is laying off workers to protect its dividend. Marathon Petroleum, which has disclosed $1.2 billion in tax breaks, is firing workers at its refineries.

It’s time for Biden to step up

President-elect Biden has a historic opportunity to reverse course and reign in the fossil fuel industry. He has pledged to rejoin the five-year-old Paris Agreement, spare public lands from oil drilling, boost fuel efficiency standards for autos and eliminate carbon emissions from the electricity sector by 2035. Crucially, Biden has stated he plans to cut off tax subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, which are worth about $20 billion per year.

Figuring out how to redirect bailouts to promote a just and low-carbon future will be a monumental challenge for Biden’s economic team. Future coronavirus relief packages must exclude further aid to the fossil fuel industry, but Congress also must fund retraining programs to give dislocated workers the opportunity to thrive in a low-carbon economy.

The Federal Reserve has belatedly joined the international network of regulators studying the impact of climate change on the financial system. But the central bank spent 2020 buying up  debt issued by fossil fuel extractors – companies that threaten its mandate to promote financial stability.

The Fed and other bank regulators must go further to promote the essential shift toward a low-carbon economy. They should limit banks’ exposure to climate risks such as hurricanes and wildfires and stem banks’ ability to fund risky fossil fuel projects that contribute to the climate crisis.

The Fed should begin selling off the fossil fuel bonds already accumulated on its balance sheet, and should consider using the money to invest in green projects, as European officials are already doing. And Congress must scour the tax code to eliminate subsidies that prop up the fossil fuel economy.

The Trump years have been an exceedingly dark time for anyone who cares about the future of our planet. The Biden administration must seize the opportunity to end Big Oil’s grip on Washington.

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