The Congressional Review Act: Exxon’s Saga of Empty Rhetoric Continues

Two weeks ago the senate passed a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolutionby a vote of 52-42 – to undo the Trump Administration’s methane regulation rollbacks. If the resolution is passed in the House of Representatives and is signed by President Biden (as is expected) methane regulations would be immediately restored to the rules introduced by the Obama Administration in 2016.  These rules would apply to newly permitted operations but not the 1.2M+ existing wells that are the lion’s share of the problem.

This is a move in the right direction, but it is far from sufficient to protect the health of impacted communities and falls embarrassingly short of real action on climate. Nevertheless, last week’s vote was heralded by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Washington Post as one the Senate’s most important climate votes in some time.

So, it’s not too surprising that several major oil and gas companies jumped on the bandwagon, showing support for “direct federal methane regulation.”

https://twitter.com/Shell_US/status/1379826433552441353?s=20

https://twitter.com/Equinor_NA/status/1380613455632273421

These are many of the same companies that directly and publicly opposed Trump’s rollbacks in 2019 and 2020, following advocates pressure to walk their talk. But one company absent from the party was glaringly conspicuous: Where was ExxonMobil?

 

Big Oil’s support for the methane CRA is not enough

Before I go any further I want to clarify one thing: industry support for the Methane CRA is not enough. If industry’s support for action on methane stops at the CRA, communities will continue to be harmed and the climate crisis will worsen. 

It’s 2021 not 2016 and our pollution problems have only gotten worse. Obama-era rules that only applied to new sources and never required close monitoring of those sources no longer are sufficient–and CRA only aims to reinstate some of the 2016 Obama era methane rules, not all. According to research by the Clean Air Task Force, even if the Obama era rules were reinstated and also applied to existing wells we would still only see a 22% reduction in methane emissions by 2025, far short of what we need to meet our Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement.

Companies serious about solving the climate crisis should, at a minimum, support calls for Biden to use the full force of the Clean Air Act to cut methane pollution 65% by 2025 and so far none have

 

Where’s Exxon?

Let’s rewind, back to March of 2019, when ExxonMobil became the first major oil and gas company to publicly oppose the Trump administration’s attempt to rollback methane rules for oil and gas production. Even before that Exxon wrote to the EPA “strongly [encouraging] the agency to continue regulating methane emissions at new and modified sources, and to expand methane regulation to existing sources.” Despite their encouragement, the EPA moved forward with their elimination of methane rules.

That brings us to today, with a resolution in the hands of congress that would, in effect, turn back the clock and reinstate the regulations of new and modified sources that Exxon claimed to support, yet they remain silent. 

Environmental and Accountability groups have long been critical of oil and gas company promises because when it comes time for acting on them many fall short. In this case Exxon isn’t just falling short, they are failing to act entirely and that raises some BIG questions about their commitment to cut methane emissions.

This comes at a pivotal time for ExxonMobil, who is already under pressure to overhaul and expedite its climate strategy while in the midst of a battle for board control started by activist hedge fund Engine No. 1. If Exxon had any intentions of easing investors’ concerns, supporting the CRA–which aims to undo rules they opposed 2 years ago–should be an obvious step. Instead they are proving skeptics right and further damaging the credibility of an industry struggling to hold on to their social license to operate.

 

Acting on Methane is the Easy Part…

Since Day 1, President Biden and his administration have pledged to use every tool at his disposal to tackle the climate crisis. He has a prime opportunity to deliver on that promise by acting immediately to cut methane and companies should get behind him.

The Biden administration recently announced the United State’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) to the Paris Agreements, which aim to cut emissions more than 50% by 2030. To meet that goal, it is critical that his administration act quickly to reduce methane pollution by focusing on cost effective solutions that can be implemented immediately.

Methane is the low hanging fruit. As ExxonMobil once said “It is in our economic interest to ensure our product is captured in the pipe and sold to consumers.” And it is widely understood that companies can do that with common sense solutions proposed by the Clean Air Task Force. These solutions include:

  • Checking for leaks and repairing them once a month.
  • Replacing old outdated equipment with newer options that reduce pollution.
  • Reducing venting and flaring from well sites.

Restoring Obama-era rules cannot be seen as a response in proportion to the scale of the methane emergency. If companies that support the CRA were serious about supporting “sound policy” or “direct federal regulation of methane” they would respond to the severity of the problem with support for these safeguards that use the full legal force of the Clean Air Act to cut methane emissions by 65% in just five years.