By Benjamin J. Hulac
As Washington talks climate rules and legislation, carbon emitters are burnishing their climate credentials.
TC Energy, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, pledged days before President Joe Biden’s inauguration to buy carbon emissions offsets for the project, which the administration halted.
General Motors announced in January it plans by 2035 for the bulk of cars it sells to be electric. Volkswagen said it expects it will double sales of electric vehicles, or EVs, in 2021. Volvo intends to only sell electric cars by 2030. “There is no long-term future for cars with an internal combustion engine,” said Henrik Green, Volvo’s chief technology officer.
And the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying arm for the petroleum business, made a big splash last week, publicly backing an “economy-wide” carbon tax.
That move drew guffaws from environmentalists who said API wants regulatory cuts in exchange, condemnation from Republicans who said it would raise consumer costs and tepid acceptance from moderates in and out of Congress.
Yet it was the latest in a steady drumbeat of announcements from fossil fuel companies and industry allies that underscores the possibility that Democrats will craft sweeping climate legislation and that carbon-heavy sectors will have to adapt in response.
Like former President Barack Obama, Biden made climate an early focus in his administration, assumed office with the country in a financial crisis and plans to reinvigorate the economy in part by investing in renewable energy and low-carbon jobs.
But unlike Obama, Biden may find mildly friendly allies for his climate agenda in corporate America and diminished corporate forces fighting against his environmental proposals.
Sam Ori, executive director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, said Obama and Biden zeroed in on climate early in their presidencies, though the Biden team has more tools at its disposal and has taken a more aggressive spending tack.
“I think that’s a big difference with the Biden administration,” Ori said by phone of the difference in economic recovery approaches. “They’re going to spend more, and they’re working to weave clean energy into the foundation of a lot of this and thinking through how to recover in a way that’s beneficial for the climate.”
There is a greater sense now than in 2009 that climate perils are present, Ori said.
“Across party lines there is an increase in the belief that this is a real issue,” he said. But it’s also true, he said, that technology supporting a green economy is more available and less expensive.
No matter the changes from the Obama years, count Ori skeptical that companies will meet their pledges without consumer demand.
“I really am super skeptical of any of that,” he said of corporate pledges generally. “I think all that is really just positioning.
“If you look at the auto companies and this stuff about 2030, all-electric fleets and everything, electric models from GM, they’re only going to do that if people buy the cars,” he said.