Welcome back — and a big thank you to all the participants who made day one of the Moral Money Summit Americas such a success (especially the many loyal readers in attendance).
We continue today in New York with an action-packed second day, featuring former Colombian president Iván Duque Márquez, Verizon chief executive Hans Vestberg, Hester Peirce of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and many more first-rate speakers. You can register here to watch online (and to catch up on any sessions you’ve missed). First, read on for an account of two standout sessions from yesterday. — Simon Mundy
Al Gore: ‘We have to get these lobbyists out of the way’
Al Gore kicked off the Moral Money Summit Americas yesterday with an impassioned attack on the “buddy-buddy” relationship between political leaders and the fossil fuel industry, which he said was threatening the prospects for global climate action.
“We need to remove the political obstacles and opposition being put in place by the fossil fuel companies that use their legacy network of financial and political ties and lobbying and campaign contributions . . . for the destruction of humanity’s future,” the former US vice-president and chair of Generation Investment Management told me.
A month before the start of the UN’s COP28 climate conference in Dubai, Gore warned that “the deck is stacked against a successful outcome”, in part due to the appointment of Sultan al-Jaber, chief executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as its president.
Gore lambasted al-Jaber’s attempt, in a recent interview with us, to present Adnoc as playing a constructive role in the energy transition. Adnoc is planning a major increase in its oil production, he noted, while US energy giants ExxonMobil and Chevron have both just announced giant acquisitions to turbo-charge their own fossil fuel output.
Al-Jaber’s helming of COP28, and the “doubling down” on fossil fuels by other energy companies, amounted to the energy sector taking off “the disguise” around its powerful, negative influence on climate action, Gore said.
“It reveals the reality that we’ve been wrestling with for quite some time,” he said. “And we need to see the politicians stop playing buddy-buddy with the heads of the fossil fuel companies who are continuing to drive this crisis in the wrong direction.”
Still, Gore said he saw some reasons for optimism on the political front, citing climate-friendly election results in Australia and Brazil, and “the continued commitment, for the most part, of the European Union”.
In the US, he said Joe Biden’s clean energy-focused Inflation Reduction Act had proved “an even bigger success than we had hoped” — and was building a “political constituency” for the energy transition by galvanising massive green investment in conservative states.
“The good news is that political will is itself a renewable resource,” Gore said. “We have to demand progress and get these lobbyists and companies and politicians that are in their pocket out of the way.” (Simon Mundy)
EPA chief Michael Regan: ‘It’s easy to be cynical’
Michael Regan took the helm of the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2021 after an extraordinary four years for the regulatory body under the Trump administration. Regan’s direct predecessor as EPA administrator, ex-coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, presided over a massive wave of environmental deregulation — which could resume if a Republican defeats Joe Biden in next year’s presidential election.
Still, Regan insisted, “morale is high” at the EPA, which has been tasked with implementing some key elements of Biden’s green agenda. “We have dedicated staff who have said: ‘We have survived the previous four years, in hopes that this administration will be very aggressive, and very smart, very strategic.’ That’s what we’re seeing now,” Regan told me yesterday.
The EPA has been entrusted with about $100bn to support environmental and infrastructure investments — of which $27bn will be deployed in the form of grants from its new Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. As the Washington Post recently pointed out, the EPA is required to disburse all of the GGRF money by September of next year.
This plan, I suggested to Regan, might alarm people wary of government bets on clean energy — which have included the Obama administration’s infamous $535mn in loans to the doomed solar company Solyndra.
“It’s very easy for the opposition to be cynical and point out one flaw, and conveniently forget about the thousands of successes,” Regan replied.
“This is not the EPA of the past,” he added. “And so now we have regulations — and we have billions of dollars to invest in technology to complement those regulations.”
The Biden administration’s ambition for the EPA to play a central role in the country’s energy transition has faced opposition from the right — and from the Supreme Court, which made a high-profile ruling last year against the agency’s right to set state-level limits on carbon emissions from power plants.
While that ruling was widely decried as dismal news for the environment, Regan said the energy industry had already been moving away from coal power even more quickly than would have been required under the banned regulation. He added that the EPA planned to finalise by next spring its revised emissions standards for the power sector — this time in a form that would both satisfy the Supreme Court and “capture the imagination of the market”.
And while he stressed the EPA’s willingness to take action against wrongdoing — notably through a flurry of new criminal cases this year — Regan said the agency was more interested in working with business to guide their operations in a greener direction.
With the newly granted billions to be deployed, “a different type of agency” was needed, Regan said. “As we design our regulations, we’re sort of skating towards the puck — and that puck is an investment opportunity.” (Simon Mundy)
The International Energy Agency says that global oil demand will soon peak. So why are US supermajors doubling down on the black stuff? The FT editorial board has an explanation.