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Team Petrostate Assembles in Houston

It's CERAWeek! Also: Biden chats with firefighters, FERC sued, wonks for woke capitalism


Last week, I raised the question of whether the United States is better described as an ethnonationalist petrostate or as a sustainable democracy. This week makes a good argument for Team Petrostate, as it’s CERAWeek1, the annual mega-conference for the world’s fossil-fuel industry in Houston. The CEOs of the world’s largest oil and gas companies are hobnobbing with government officials from around the world, primarily our very own U.S. of A. The civil servants and representatives of the American people speaking at the conference include:

  • Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Alaska’s Republican senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, lobbying for ConocoPhillips’s Willow oil project;

  • Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan, Interior Deputy Secretary Tommy Baudreau, Presidential senior advisor for clean energy John Podesta, Office of Science and Technology Policy Deputy Director for Energy Sally Benson, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission acting chair Willie Phillips, and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly;

  • From the State Department: Former natural gas executive and Special Presidential Coordinator for Global Infrastructure and Energy Security Amos Hochstein, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, Assistant Secretary for Energy Resources Geoffrey Pyatt, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Transformation Anna Shpitsberg, and Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes Elizabeth Rosenberg;

  • From the national labs: Idaho National Laboratory senior advisor Steven Aumier, Idaho National Laboratory director Todd Combs, National Renewable Energy Laboratory director Andrea Watson, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory director Angela Becker-Dippmann, National Energy Technology Laboratory chief research officer David Miller;

  • From the Department of Energy: Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Under Secretary for Science and Innovation Geraldine Richmond, climate financier and Director of the Loan Programs Office Jigar Shah, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management Brad Crabtree, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Resource Sustainability Ryan Peay, and former natural gas executive and Director of the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations David Crane.

Also in attendance are the oil-backed heads of energy programs at our nation’s top universities and think tanks, such as Columbia’s Jason Bordoff, Stanford’s Arun Majumdar and Naomi Boness, MIT’s Robert Armstrong, Colorado School of Mines’s Morgan Bazilian, Brookings’s Samantha Gross, Resources for the Future’s Richard Newell, and large contingents from Johns Hopkins and Rice University.

Other speakers include Carlyle Group billionaire David Rubenstein, who controls $24 billion in fossil-fuel investments; Amazon Web Services VP Bill Vass, and Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the Saudi oil chief in charge of this year’s international climate talks.

Does it matter what the attendees are saying at CERAWeek? I suppose.

  • Podesta told attendees the Biden White House continues to be committed to energy permitting reform, even though Manchin’s pipeline-permit plan flamed out.

  • Kerry said “there is an urgent, growing, catastrophic set of events unfolding before our eyes” and he just wants the oil and gas industry to “change the byproduct of your business” somehow. Problem is, carbon dioxide is an unavoidable byproduct of using fossil fuels.

  • Hochstein agreed with the sentiment expressed by Chevron CEO Mike Wirth that while the “transition” away from fossil fuels2 is important, it would be really bad to do it too quickly.

The inimitable Kate Aronoff is reporting from CERAWeek; her Twitter feed is mordantly amusing.

Speaking at the International Association of Fire Fighters Legislative Conference on Monday, President Joe Biden told firefighters his administration is “going after toxic exposure to PFAS” and “confronting climate change, including protecting forest health, reducing fire risk in nearby communities to protect you.”

As the West warms, California’s conifers are increasingly in zombie forests, and the desertification of Central Oregon deepens.

At least 15 people were killed and dozens feared missing after torrential rains and landslides battered one of Indonesia's outermost islands.

KPMG’s environmental auditors somehow okayed companies responsible for massive deforestation as “sustainable.”

Republicans are putting the brakes on a bill from Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance that would force companies like Norfolk Southern to use better brakes.

Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for extending the deadline for the expansion of Freeport LNG, the country’s second largest fracked gas export facility located on the Texas Gulf Coast.

In a Roosevelt Institute publication, Lenore Palladino, Jordan Haedtler, and Kristina Karlsson offer a full-throated rebuttal to the GOP attacks on woke capitalism, “arguing that in order to protect constituents’ future financial security, state officials must incorporate climate financial risk into their oversight and management of public pension funds.”

Let’s check in on what’s happening in the supposed seat of American government, Washington D.C., today:

At 1 PM, American University’s Center for Environmental Policy and Hal Harvey’s climate consultancy Energy Innovation host a webinar on how to decarbonize the electricity sector.

At 2:30 PM, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) chairs an Environment and Public Works subcommittee hearing on the environmental costs of crypto-mining, and his legislation to require crypto-miners to report their climate pollution.

At 3 PM, House Rules meets to set up the floor debate on H.J. Res. 27 to disapprove of the Biden administration’s Waters of the United States rule to protect wetlands.

Tomorrow, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy convenes a virtual forum on campus and community-scale climate change solutions. CERAWeek attendee Sally Benson will open the event.

Hearings on the Hill:

Climate Action Today:

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1 Started by Cambridge Energy Research Associates, oil historian Daniel Yergin’s consultancy, which was acquired by IHS (Information Handling Services) Inc. in 2004, which merged with Markit Ltd in 2016, and acquired by S&P Global in 2022.

2 To be clear, everyone at CERAWeek is too polite to say that, they just talk about an “energy transition” without mentioning that the transition means ending the burning of fossil fuels.

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