It was a deceptively low-key event on Capitol Hill: an older man in a darkish go well with, speaking right into a TV digicam about an vitality report.
In line with his agency’s 362-page evaluation, the quickest path to California’s local weather objectives included persevering with to depend on fossil fuels. The evaluation was funded by gasoline corporations and teams associated to them, however he wasn’t a lobbyist or trade guide. Fairly the other, he was the Obama administration’s well-respected vitality secretary, Ernest Moniz.
“We certainly have to get beyond … the climate deniers,” he mentioned within the April 2019 interview with C-SPAN. “But we also have to get beyond what we think are often completely unrealistic proposals for the pace at which we can decarbonize.” Combating local weather change on the tempo wanted would require a “broad coalition,” he mentioned – one which included the oil and gasoline trade.
Moniz was wading right into a dispute that may outline how the brand new Biden administration tackles the disaster: can oil and gasoline corporations be a part of the answer? Or have they confirmed, with years of disinformation campaigns and efforts to gradual local weather motion, that they may at all times stand in the way in which?
Because the Biden transition group wrestles with this query, it’s already going through stress from activists to not rent extra individuals with fossil gasoline ties, like Louisiana congressman Cedric Richmond, who will be part of Biden’s White Home as a prime adviser.
In Moniz’s case:
Moniz is on the board of probably the most polluting energy corporations in America, the Georgia-based Southern Firm.
His agency Power Futures Initiative (EFI) carried out analysis paid for by Southern California Gasoline (SoCalGas), which a state client advocate has since argued needs to be fined for utilizing buyer cash to oppose local weather progress.
Moniz introduced the outcomes at an occasion sponsored by Stanford College’s Pure Gasoline Initiative, which SoCalGas and different fossil gasoline corporations assist fund as affiliate members. The initiative affords company members entry to analysis “from inception to outcome”.
EFI additionally partnered with Stanford researchers on a report that explored alternatives to seize local weather emissions from fossil gasoline operations. One of many funders was the trade group the Oil and Gasoline Local weather Initiative.
EFI’s advisory board is chaired by the previous chief govt of British oil firm BP, though it additionally consists of distinguished local weather specialists and environmentalists.
EFI’s California evaluation neatly aligned with what SoCalGas had been arguing because the state tightened its local weather objectives. It discovered that gasoline energy vegetation with applied sciences to seize their emissions would scale back local weather air pollution greater than another choice, together with renewable energy. It instructed an all-of-the-above method.
Whereas gasoline has helped the US lower its planet-heating emissions by changing dirtier coal, it stays a significant local weather polluter that’s linked with vital well being issues.
Collin Rees, a senior campaigner for Oil Change Worldwide mentioned Moniz’s hyperlinks to fossil fuels aren’t “a blip on his resume”.
“It is his entire professional career for the last couple decades, which is deeply concerning,” Rees mentioned.
The gasoline trade sponsors of Moniz’s evaluation have been by no means a secret. Monetary contributors have been prominently displayed on the third web page of the EFI report, and Moniz mentioned when he launched the findings in 2019 that regardless that gasoline corporations had requested the analysis, it was nonetheless impartial. A Moniz spokesperson declined to remark for this story.
Moniz launched the California report at an occasion sponsored by Stanford College’s Pure Gasoline Initiative, which affords corporations entry to analysis “from inception to outcome”, conferences with professors and alternatives to recruit college students. The price per 12 months ranges between $35,00Zero and $250,000.
An inside e mail from the initiative, shared with the Guardian, reveals the initiative’s snug relationship with SoCalGas, an affiliate member.
In April 2019, the Sierra Membership was criticizing a separate evaluation SoCalGas had paid for from the consulting agency Navigant. That report backed up the corporate’s argument for “renewable gas” – a biogas collected from rotting landfills and sewage remedy vegetation. SoCalGas has touted biogas as cities throughout the state have taken steps to cut back the local weather emissions from buildings, by transitioning away from gasoline home equipment.
Contacted by SoCalGas, the Stanford initiative’s managing director Naomi Boness stepped in to assist. She despatched an e mail to her colleagues with the topic line: “SoCalGas seeking consultant on decarbonization in California.”
The corporate sought a “highly regarded energy resource scientist or economist” to answer the Sierra Membership’s complaints.
“This could be in the form of a letter or op-ed piece, possibly followed by further research, if needed, and a peer reviewed paper on this topic in the not too distant future,” Boness mentioned. “Please let me know if any of you would be interested in taking on this challenge, and feel free to forward within the Stanford community.”
Stanford spokesperson E J Miranda mentioned: “Stanford energy researchers engage with a broad range of stakeholders in open forums. Our individual faculty and researchers fulfill their academic responsibilities with independence, professional ethics and personal integrity.”
A spokesperson for SoCalGas didn’t reply to the Guardian’s questions by deadline.
Through the Obama administration, SoCalGas advocated in opposition to company local weather efforts, together with a rule that might incentivize electrical home equipment over gasoline ones, based on notes from an American Gasoline Affiliation assembly obtained by the Guardian. SoCalGas’s proprietor, Sempra Power, can be making massive bets on the way forward for gasoline – investing in export infrastructure within the US and Mexico.
Regardless of that report, SoCalGas has used Moniz’s analysis to attempt to bolster its local weather status. It posted his report on Fb with out noting it funded the work, and it cited the evaluation in an August 2020 letter to California regulators wherein it argued that “pure gasoline and renewable gasoline … are clear, dependable, reasonably priced, and resilient sources of vitality that play a important a part of the resolution to California’s vitality issues.”
The corporate has drawn consideration from California’s senator Diane Feinstein and consultant Nanette Barragán, who final month wrote to it about reviews that it has “worked to undermine California’s transition away from fossil fuels”.
The inner watchdog on the California Public Utilities Fee, which regulates the corporate, has requested the fee to nice SoCalGas $255m for abusing buyer funds to subvert local weather motion.
“A lot of people might think, ‘oh, it’s a gas company, it’s lobbying for gas, that makes it like every other gas company,” mentioned Sara Gersen, a clear vitality employees legal professional with Earthjustice, an surroundings group that joined the patron advocate’s grievance. “But its lobbying machine is actually quite unique among gas companies nationwide because most gas companies just leave it to the trade association.”
Charlie Spatz, a researcher with the Local weather Investigations Middle, mentioned Moniz has strengthened that lobbying machine.
“The report is not necessarily super proscriptive, but by putting his name on there, SoCalGas has been able to do press releases and social media and letters to various commissions and other regulatory bodies,” Spatz mentioned.
EFI has additionally partnered with the labor group the AFL-CIO to again an “all-of-the above” vitality technique that preserves jobs.
Moniz has not-so-subtly jabbed a progressive Inexperienced New Deal that might battle local weather change and inequity concurrently, touting as an alternative a “Green Real Deal,” that might work “within the constraints of technical, cost, and social realities”. Moniz believes fossil gasoline will probably be a part of the answer, used to again up photo voltaic panels and wind generators that don’t generate energy always.
Already, Biden has chosen somebody from the Stanford orbit to run his vitality division transition. The group lead, Arun Majumdar, was the primary head of the Superior Analysis Tasks Company-Power, ARPA-E, which incubates vitality applied sciences. He later arrange a program at Stanford known as the Strategic Power Alliance, which was funded by oil corporations Shell, Exxon, and Complete, in addition to Bank of America. Shell contributed $20m over 5 years, and Majumdar praised the corporate for supporting Stanford for 40 years.
“This support comes at a critical time for our energy future,” he mentioned.
Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor at Princeton College who previously labored below Moniz, mentioned among the criticism of him is “misplaced”.
“There are very different theories of change about how we’re going to make progress on clean energy in this country. Certain progressives believe that the goal is to defeat the oil and gas sector,” Jenkins mentioned. “There are other people who are equally committed to tackling climate change who believe that one of the most effective ways to do that is to convince incumbent industries that there is money to be made and a role to be played in supporting a clean energy transition as opposed to fighting it to the death.”