Oil industry: Don’t buy environmentalists’ ‘spin’ on climate change

Environmentalists are cheering Tuesday’s electoral wins as evidence that Americans want to see lawmakers combat climate change and advance renewable energy, but a prominent oil industry leader on Thursday rejected that conclusion.

“A lot of people are trying to create a lot of spin,” scoffed American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard during a conference call with reporters. “There are people going so far as to suggest that climate was the mandate.”

Just a few weeks ago, Gerard noted, conservationists were complaining that major political candidates were ignoring the issue of climate change altogether. At the same time, domestic energy development — and specifically production of oil and natural gas — were top-tier issues that got significant attention in stump speeches and at presidential debates.

“Energy — specifically oil and natural gas — is a top-drawer issue,” Gerard said. “The conversation surrounding it was clear across the country because it’s tied to job creation and economic recovery.”

A new API-commissioned study, shows that 73 percent of voters favor increased access to domestic oil and gas reserves, and 91 percent believe more oil and gas development would lead to more U.S. jobs.

During the election season, API poured millions of dollars into its “Vote 4 Energy” campaign designed to spur a dialogue around domestic development and U.S. energy security.

Separately, oil and gas interests contributed millions toward electing allies to the House of Representatives, Senate and White House. Outside spending by the oil and gas industry topped $15 million — with total political spending about four times that — according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Most of that went to conservatives.

But environmentalists have been crowing that the spending was in vain; all but one of the League of Conservation Voters’ so-called “dirty dozen” were defeated on Tuesday. And green advocates scored some big wins with the election of candidates they backed financially, including Sens.-elect Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Angus King, an independent from Maine.

Environmentalists also have touted polling data suggesting that concern about climate change was a motivating factor for many of Obama’s voters and were pressing the White House to make it a signature issue.

Analysts at HSBC Holdings on Wednesday predicted Obama could advocate a tax on carbon dioxide emissions that would help fill federal coffers and possibly combat climate change at the same time.

But the chances for climate change legislation on Capitol Hill are slim. Republicans who control the House of Representatives are unlikely to advance any broad climate change effort. And previous efforts to arrest climate change and cap greenhouse gas emissions have stalled in the Senate.

Still Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on Wednesday that the issue should get attention in the next two years.

“Climate change is an extremely important issue,” he said at a post-election news conference. “I hope we can address it reasonably.”

Climate change also got a shout-out during Obama’s victory speech Wednesday morning, when the newly reelected president said children should “live in an America … that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”