American Petroleum Institute Regresses with All Fossils, All the Time Plan

January 7, 2016 | 3:57 pm
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

The American Petroleum Institute’s latest annual report on energy in the U.S. is out, and it’s a step backwards on climate change. While API’s 2015 State of American Energy report for the first time touted a host of clean energy options, the 2016 one is back to all fossils, all the time. It’s time for API to come clean on clean energy and climate change.

Into the 21st century

Last year’s API report, titled Energy Tomorrow, was notable—for some, even praiseworthy—because of its inclusiveness, technology-wise. API gave space to a host of organizations to talk about a range of low-carbon energy options, including solar, wind, and energy efficiency. (The word “solar” appeared 79 times—and not just in the section written by the Solar Energy Industries Association—and pages were rife with mentions of climate change and carbon reduction.)

Credit: Duke-Energy/Creative-Commons (Flickr)

Natural gas has a potential role to play in lowering electricity costs, reducing carbon pollution and helping us transition away from coal to more renewable energy, but it’s important to recognize its limits, and soon. (Credit: Duke-Energy/Flickr)

In his cover letter to the 2015 report, API’s president Jack Gerard argued that the whole mix of technologies—not just oil and gas—“will remain essential to successfully meet America’s future energy needs.”

Back to the 20th century

Alas, this year API has forgotten everything it learned in 2015 about the importance of all those other technologies. API just merged with America’s Natural Gas Alliance, but that move seems to actually have narrowed their vision, not broadened it.

The 2016 State of American Energy report, called Vote4Energy, focuses pretty much exclusively on oil and natural gas (and… voting for oil and gas). Any discussion of climate change is suspiciously absent, and carbon reductions show up in the report in only one sentence, one that gives credit for recent reductions to—you guessed it—natural gas.

That’s a pretty radical backpedaling on where they were a year ago. API’s new report feels conspicuously outdated at a time when many of its own members are publicly calling for some form of a price on carbon. It’s a reminder that Big Oil’s money isn’t always where its mouth is when it comes to lobbying and climate change.

No more shenanigans


The time for deception is over, API. It’s time to get real on climate science and energy.

Unfortunately, API’s history on climate change is mostly one of deception. API earned a starring role in our recent Climate Deception Dossiers report because of its efforts over many years to help deceive the public about climate science and solutions.

And newly disclosed documents show that API, with its member companies, actually knew about the potential risks of climate change as far back as the 1970s and early 1980s… but still chose to embark on a decades-long campaign of deception against climate science and solutions.

These days API finally admits, “It is clear that climate change is a serious problem….” But at the same time API is stepping up its attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, and still mispresenting natural gas as a silver bullet for addressing the problem.

The simple fact is that eliminating the Clean Power Plan and replacing it with an overreliance on natural gas is definitely not consistent with where we need to get to on cutting carbon, and is a risky gamble for consumers in potentially overreliant states.

API was moving in the right direction in its annual report last year when it recognized the role that a host of low-carbon technologies can and should play in our energy future. And they were nearly right about how to get there—with innovation and more:

With smart public policy choices and a regulatory system that supports domestic energy opportunities, the United States can realize a prosperous energy tomorrow characterized by energy abundance and economic security.

It’s important to add “and low carbon-ness” to those sentiments. But they were partway there, at least.

If API wants to be seen as a 21st-century leader in energy, they’ll do a whole lot better hewing a whole lot more closely to their 2015 messages than to their 2016 ones, and giving Americans solid, science-based information about energy and climate risks and opportunities.

It’s time for API to ditch their old ways, get out of the deception business, and get real about moving us toward a truly prosperous—and safe—energy tomorrow.

About the author

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John Rogers is energy campaign analytic lead at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.