ExxonMobil made waves across the blogosphere last week when it criticized the influential lobbying group ALEC for thwarting action on climate change -- even though the company is itself an ALEC member. Now it looks like a leading global coal company is coming over to the "green" side, too. Earlier this week, global mining giant BHP Billiton warned the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and two other coal-friendly organizations that it will pull its membership over their failure to link energy policy with climate action.
The move further isolates President Donald J. Trump in his position denying the scientific consensus on climate change. His unstinting efforts on behalf of the U.S. coal industry include withdrawing the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change, making it the only nation on Earth refusing to participate in the historic accord.
To be clear, BHP's current focus is on carbon capture and emissions reduction, not the death of coal. In a new report that supports its decision to put pressure on coal trade organizations, the company explains:
Fossil fuels are an affordable, reliable and accessible way of meeting energy demand and they currently provide more than 80 per cent of the world’s primary energy. Under all current plausible scenarios, fossil fuels will continue to be a significant part of the energy mix for decades.
BHP accepts the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) assessment of climate change science, which has found that warming of the climate is unequivocal, the human influence is clear and physical impacts are unavoidable...As a result, responding to climate change is a priority Board governance and strategic issue for BHP.
The company argues that economic development and climate goals should be firmly entwined. It's a more climate-aware version of the clumsy "energy poverty" argument typically advanced in support of coal. BHP advocates for coal and change at the same time:
...the world must find ways to significantly improve energy efficiency, reduce emissions from the use of fossil fuels and increase the share of alternative energy sources such as renewables, batteries and nuclear power...
Carbon capture and sequestration may not be the answer (carbon recycling is more promising), but BHP has already made its first move into utility scale solar plus storage, through participation in the Lakeland Solar and Storage Project in Queensland. If all goes well, BHP could leverage the project for a deeper dive into renewables:
Outcomes of the extensive test program will provide insight for BHP and the resources sector in general, and the results of the project will be shared widely. At the same time, we continue to evaluate the integration of renewable energy sources into our own operations, together with incumbent energy sources to provide the appropriate mix of system reliability, emissions reduction and lowest cost.
In other words, the company is in position to ramp up other operations if and when its coal business winds down.
As for ExxonMobil, the company plunged into the shale gas market several years ago and hasn't looked back. It's no coincidence that low cost natural gas has been the driving force behind a torrent of coal power plant closures in the U.S.
A WCA spokesperson cited the organization's website as proof of its good intentions on climate change. The same could be said of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which updated its position on climate change in October:
Climate change is a serious challenge that needs to be addressed through thoughtful policies that will have a meaningful impact. The Chamber supports efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and believes technology and innovation offer the greatest potential to reduce emissions and mitigate the negative impacts of climate change.
Photo: via BHP.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.