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CEO DATELINE – New API head says risks from climate change are real

Jan. 9, 2019
By Walt Williams

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In his first annual address as head of the American Petroleum Institute, Mike Sommers said the risks from climate change are real and that the oil and gas industry is playing a role in reducing carbon emissions.

Sommers spoke to more than 400 government, labor and industry leaders during API’s annual State of American Energy Address Tuesday in Washington, D.C. The CEO joined API last year after leading the American Investment Council since 2016. Before that, he was chief of staff to former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Sommers used the occasion to talk about how the U.S. has become a world leader in oil and gas production in recent years, noting the country sometimes exports more oil than some OPEC nations produce. But he also took time to speak about what has been a taboo subject among fossil fuel producers: climate change.

The oil and gas industry’s environmental achievements are sometimes “overlooked because public attention is so focused on what we quote/unquote ‘believe’ about climate change. What position the industry takes on this or that climate policy,” Sommers said, according to a transcript of his speech on the API website.

“So let me state three things plainly: The risks of climate change are real. Industrial activity around the globe impacts the climate. And America’s natural gas and oil industry is meeting the climate challenge head-on,” he said.

API and the oil and gas industry has had a complicated relationship with climate change science. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued Exxon Mobil in 2016 for allegedly sowing public doubt about the science even though its own scientists warned company executives of the problem as far back as 1976, according documents originally recovered by the Los Angeles Times and the news site InsideClimate News. API reportedly led and funded industry efforts to further muddy the waters and resist new regulations on emissions.

However, in recent years natural gas production has boomed. Because the fuel produces fewer carbon emissions than coal, gas is being touted as a clean alternative for electricity generation. API represents both natural gas and oil producers.

“When it comes to carbon, no nation has reduced emissions more than America has over the last decade,” Sommers said. “Smart policy explains only part of that progress. The single greatest factor is clean natural gas. Not only has it altered the economic landscape; it makes progress possible in renewable energy as well. When a power plant is sourced by wind or solar, you still need natural gas to back it up.”

Beyond environmental policy, Sommers urged lawmakers to approved the proposed replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement, lift tariffs on steel and expand U.S. energy infrastructure.