February 28, 2018

Time to Wake Up: American Petroleum Institute

Mr. President, I am here for my 198th ‘‘Time to Wake Up’’ speech with my increasingly dogeared and beaten chart.

My last two speeches focused on, shall we say, the peculiar role two of this country’s largest trade associations play on climate change. They have dozens and dozens of member companies that support action on climate change. Renewable energy now provides more jobs than fossil fuels and lots of American manufacturing. Yet the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers spend millions and millions of dollars lobbying Congress against climate action, against renewables, and in favor of the fossil fuel industry. Go figure.

In 2016, Senator WARREN and I surveyed the 108 companies on the chamber of commerce’s board, and we couldn’t find a single one that would endorse the chamber’s anti-climate lobbying—not one. Many of these companies had very public pro-climate positions. None said they had even been consulted by the chamber about the chamber’s anti-climate crusade.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s war on climate action isn’t just in lobbying Congress. It also spends tens of millions of dollars in elections, using political attack ads to sink pro-climate candidates. So I asked in my last speeches: Why? Why does the chamber and NAM advance the special interests of the fossil fuel industry, opposing climate action, ignoring their own pro-climate members, and turning their backs on the whole renewable energy and green technology economy? Why, indeed.

Well, today I would like to talk about a fossil fuel trade association— the American Petroleum Institute, API. API is a slightly different beast than the chamber and NAM. It represents the oil and gas industry. You wouldn’t expect it to care about renewable energy or green technology. API’s policy positions should align with the big oil companies it represents, but it gets complicated. It gets complicated because the big oil companies all claim to support action on climate change. Here is what ExxonMobil claims: ‘‘the risk of climate change is clear and the risk warrants action.’’

In 2009, then-Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson said the company supported a price on carbon. That is supposedly ExxonMobil’s position today. Here is Shell on carbon pricing: ‘‘The transition to low-carbon solutions is best underpinned by meaningful government-led carbon ‘pricing’ mechanisms.’’


On the Paris Agreement, Exxon publicly supported the Paris Agreement, as did Chevron, as did Shell, as did BP. In addition, BP and Shell signed on to an initiative to eliminate methane flaring.

So summing up, all of the major oil companies supported the Paris Agreement. Three out of four, including ExxonMobil—the big kahuna—publicly support putting a price on carbon emissions, and two of them even support eliminating methane flaring.

So where is the American Petroleum Institute on these policies? Let’s start with the Paris Agreement. API funds a group called the American Council on Capital Formation, which, along with the Chamber of Commerce, funded the debunked study claiming that the Paris Agreement would cause massive job losses and huge costs. This debunked report was cited by President Trump as justification for withdrawing from the Paris accord. So API funded the report used as a basis for withdrawal—but wait. It gets better. The authors of this API-funded study are the same two characters API hired way back in 1997 and 1998 to write similar reports critical of the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol, of course, was violently opposed in the Senate by the fossil fuel industry and API.

So here we are 20 years after Kyoto, and API used almost exactly the same playbook—even the same personnel— against the Paris Agreement that they had used against the Kyoto accord, except that this time API paid for the report through a front group to hide API’s hand in torpedoing the Paris Agreement. How do you relate that to the stated position of the four oil majors for the Paris Agreement? You would have to ask API to explain.

So now let’s look at API’s position on carbon pricing, which three out of those four oil majors say they support. API’s President has claimed that his organization doesn’t have an official position on carbon pricing, but if you take a look at API’s website, it is loaded with comments critical of putting a price on carbon, and API also funded yet another study claiming that a price on carbon emissions would be bad for the economy.

On the issue of methane flaring, API out front led the charge against Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency rules. Its lobbying campaign has paid off, as two of Trump’s fossil fuel stooges, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, are busily trying to dismantle these rules. Luckily, they are not very bright about it, and courts keep upending their schemes.

Let’s look at the lobbying. Big Oil money provides much of API’s power in the Halls of Congress. API has spent over $100 million lobbying the Federal Government, and apparently its lobbying goes against the wishes as stated by its biggest clients, the four oil majors. If you look, there is a big bump up in 2009 and here through 2016—the Obama years—when they wanted to go in and stop all kinds of progress on climate change.

In this building, we all know perfectly well that API is not here lobbying for a price on carbon. We know perfectly well that if a Republican were to say, ‘‘I am for a price on carbon,’’ or sign on to a bill, they would probably get a visit from API saying, ‘‘Whoa, not so fast there, partner.’’ We know perfectly well that they are not in this building lobbying for the Paris accord.

So why the discrepancy? Is it possible that all of this money—$100 million—is being thrown around without the approval of the big oil companies? Has the American Petroleum Institute sort of gone off on its own, off the leash, free range, running away from the oil companies? It is a puzzlement, this vast gulf between the pro-climate policies the oil majors say they support and the anti-climate policies the API lobbyists support.

I said one possibility is, Big Oil doesn’t know how its lobbying money is being spent. Maybe those CEOs have lost control of their own trade association and don’t even know it. I mean, after all, around here, who pays attention to their own lobbying operation, anyway? Maybe the $100 million is such chump change to the big oil companies that they have just lost track of it, like we might lose change in our couch cushions.

Maybe—cover your ears, young pages, because I may say something shocking here—maybe it is a scam. It is totally shocking that a big corporation will say one thing and do another. What a concept, but it is a concept that works out great for Big Oil. The Big Oil CEOs get to go to cocktail parties in Davos or on Fifth Avenue. They get to go to international conferences, and with all their sophisticated friends, they get to say: Hey, we are not a bunch of science-hating, heads-in-the sand climate deniers. We have sensible climate policies.

At the same time, they can send their lobbying goons out to make sure no one in Congress takes that ‘‘sensible climate policies’’ nonsense seriously. It is great. Have your front group do your dirty work for you, fill your websites with happy assurances, while you let API loose on Washington to crush any pro-climate policies that might actually reduce carbon emissions and threaten your bottom line.

Hypocrisy? Yes, but then hypocrisy is famously the tribute vice pays to virtue. I suppose it is at least a start. It is a sign that we have reached the point where Big Oil recognizes the need to try to at least look virtuous. That is a start, but it still leaves us with this huge disconnect between the pro-climate policies the big oil companies claim to support and their American Petroleum Institute’s relentless anti-climate lobbying.

Remember, throughout the oil industry’s decades-long campaign against climate action, they knew all along. Exxon knew decades ago about the effects of carbon pollution, but they worked through an elaborate web of front groups to propagate doubt and denial about the science they knew.

Shell knew too. In 1991, Shell even produced a documentary warning about the serious threat climate change posed to the future of civilization. Despite acknowledging this threat, Shell, like Exxon, continued to fund API and other front groups that sought to mislead the public about climate change and opposed climate action here in Congress.

Exxon’s trade group—this American Petroleum Institute—also knew. They knew of the reality of climate change. They knew it was caused by carbon emissions from fossil fuels, and they knew of the danger it poses. Way back in 1959—almost 60 years ago—API was warned by an eminent scientist that if we kept burning fossil fuels, we would increase the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Back in 1959, they were warned. The prediction they received was that it would warm the atmosphere, melt the icecaps, and submerge coastal cities and towns, as we are beginning to see along the Florida coastline right now. That was the prediction in 1959.

In 1959, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 316 parts per million. Then, in 1968, a group of scientists API had itself commissioned warned API that significant temperature changes could occur by the year 2000 and that, ultimately, potential damage to the environment could be severe. By 1968, the atmosphere concentration of CO2 was up to 323 parts per million.

In 1980, scientists hired by API again warned API that carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels were likely to have catastrophic effects. By 1980, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was 339. In 1983, API disbanded the scientific working group it had created to study global warming. Apparently, API didn’t like what it was hearing so, in 1983, they shut it off. There is a legal term for when you are on notice but then just turn away; it is called ‘‘willful ignorance.’’ By 1983, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was 343 parts per million.

Then came 1999, when James Hansen’s famous Senate testimony threatened API’s willful ignorance scheme. So API and its Big Oil members founded a front group with the misleading name Global Climate Coalition. What is it with these front groups and these people, anyway? Why is it always these front groups? Global Climate Coalition began to spread falsehoods and disinformation about climate science, even though in 1989 they knew. In 1989, they had known for 30 years, since that first report in 1959, and by 1989 the atmospheric concentration was 353 parts per million.

In 1993, API hired one of the same men who wrote those phony Kyoto and Paris reports that I mentioned to write a report attacking President Clinton’s so-called Btu tax on fuel sources. In 1993, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere was up to 357 parts per million. In 1998, API did that report attacking the Kyoto Protocol. It also commissioned what it called its Global Climate Science Communications Plan, a plan designed to mislead Americans about climate science. By 1998, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was 367 parts per million.

In 2009, API fought and killed the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation that would have controlled carbon emissions. By 2009, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was 387 parts per million.

Now here we are in 2018. API is still fighting climate action. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now 407 parts per million, almost 30 percent higher than it was when API probably first learned what climate science meant. As we have kept dumping carbon pollution into the atmosphere, temperatures and sea levels have indeed steadily risen—just as API was told they would. They knew, but they lied.

For decades, they lied on a massive industrial scale. They lied through phony science. They lied through phony front groups and bogus studies. They lied through talk shows. They lied through rightwing media. They lied through AstroTurf, and well-paid PR firms. They lied for decades, and now the American people have to pay the price of climate change to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.

So, from their point of view, what the heck? After decades of lying about climate change, what is a little discrepancy now between what Big Oil CEOs say and what Big Oil lobbyists do? The industry’s sophisticated and expensive disinformation and lobbying campaign has blockaded climate action in this country for more than half a century. When you have been lying that long, maybe it is a hard habit to break.

Looking back at this whole scam, I guess API and its members actually see it as a win—nearly 60 years of industry profits they protected behind the barricade of lies, but at what price to our country? At what price to Americans whose lives have already, in many cases, been upended by climate change? At what price to people around the world who will suffer the effects of climate change and one day want an answer about why America, through all this period, let this take place—why America let them down.

The time for deception, the time for front groups, for misinformation, for inaction is over. API and its fossil fuel allies over at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers have blocked climate action in Congress long enough. Look at the price we paid to allow the fossil fuel lobby to dictate climate policy in this great body. Four hundred seven parts per million is a measurement, and it is a measurement unprecedented in the full span of human history on this planet.

I yield the floor.