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Voters Want Oil and Gas Industry to Pay for Clean Energy Transition

Big Oil CEOs say consumers are unwilling to pay for the transition away from fossil fuels. Voters are not having it.

ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Darren Woods speaks during the CERAWeek oil summit in Houston, Texas, on March 18, 2024.

Top oil and gas executives took the stage at the annual industry conference CERAWeek in Houston, Texas, this week to shift the blame for climate inaction onto the public, suggesting in speeches and statements that consumers are unwilling to pay higher energy costs to hasten the transition away from fossil fuels.

During a panel discussion on Monday, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods said the United States is not likely to meet its target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, in part due to uncertainties around the cost and viability of low-carbon hydrogen and related industry-friendly technologies meant to reduce carbon pollution without phasing out fossil fuels.

“One of the challenges here is that while society wants to see emissions reduced, nobody wants to pay for it,” Woods said.

Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser reportedly told attendees that the clean energy transition is “visibly failing on most fronts,” and global demand would ensure the oil industry survives long after 2050.

While U.S. consumers may not be excited about the prospect of paying higher energy bills for cleaner air, they do have strong opinions about who should pick up the tab.

A new poll from Data for Progress and Fossil Free Media found that 78 percent of likely U.S. voters want the oil and gas industry to bear financial responsibility for the clean energy transition after decades of misleading the public about climate change and profiting enormously from the destructive process of extracting and burning fossil fuels.

The poll also found that 84 percent of likely voters are “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the oil and gas industry making massive profits while consumers face rising energy bills, including 91 percent of Democrats, 85 percent of Black voters and 80 percent of Latino voters. Only 5 percent of young voters between the ages of 18 to 29 said they are “not concerned at all.”

“It’s outrageous for Big Oil CEOs to point fingers at the public, when the data clearly shows that Americans expect fossil fuel corporations to pay their fair share for the climate damage they’ve knowingly caused,” said Cassidy DiPaola, spokesperson for the Make Polluters Pay campaign, in a statement.

The progressive groups behind the poll are critical of industry, but even if the results are somewhat inflated, it’s clear that many voters are aware that oil and gas companies are pulling in record profits while consumers feel the pinch.

The latest survey echoes a 2023 poll that found declining public trust in the fossil fuel industry. In October, 77 percent of likely voters agreed that if oil and gas companies knew that their products were hurting the climate and lied about it, they should pay for climate costs. Another 70 percent supported making the fossil fuel industry pay for the harms of climate change, regardless of their messaging to the public around the issue.

“Poll after poll shows that across party lines, demographics and regions, the public wants these companies to take responsibility for the damage they’ve done to our climate,” DiPaola said. “It’s time for elected officials to listen to their constituents and hold polluters accountable.”

Big oil companies have made a show of investing in cleaner energy and making public commitments to lower climate-warming emissions, but behind the scenes, well-funded lobbyists use the political debate over climate policy to entrench their control over energy markets and oppose any policy the industry doesn’t like.

Meanwhile, global oil corporations such as BP and Shell have quietly walked back their climate commitments and emission-reduction targets while announcing plans to produce more fossil fuels than previously projected. Citing strong demand for oil and supply-chain disruptions for renewables such as wind energy, major oil firms are signaling that any action on climate and fossil fuel pollution must fit neatly into their profit margins as long as fossil fuels dominate global energy markets.

Holly Bender, the Sierra Club’s chief energy officer, said people and communities across the world are working tirelessly for clean, renewable energy because their “lives and livelihoods depend on it,” while oil and gas executives gathered at CERAWeek to “openly mock these efforts.”

“Comments like those from Exxon’s CEO reveal any fossil fuel industry claims about having climate plans to be little more than attempts to continue lining their own pockets while the world burns,” Bender said in a statement.

Bender said Congress must act to rein in the powerful industry, but House Republicans are currently moving in the opposite direction with what they are calling “energy week.” This week, the House GOP is voting a series of bills that would roll back key elements of President Joe Biden’s climate agenda, including the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund established by the Inflation Reduction Act for the deployment of clean energy technology across the country.

Republicans say Biden’s “radical left” climate policies are stifling energy development and raising costs for consumers — despite record levels of oil production and gas exports. House Democrats say the GOP’s “energy week” legislation is a giveaway to fossil fuel companies seeking to extract resources from public lands for cheap.

“Apparently, the hundreds of billions that American taxpayers already give the fossil fuel industry each year aren’t enough; MAGA Republicans want to lock in rock-bottom royalty rates, insufficient bond amounts, and other undeserved high-dollar gifts for Big Oil for the foreseeable future,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, in a statement after the House GOP passed two pro-industry bills on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced on Wednesday new pollution standards for new passenger cars and light-duty trucks, which the Environmental Protection Agency says will prevent 7 billion tons of climate-warming carbon pollution through 2055. The administration is touting the rules as the “strongest ever” for vehicles, but critics say the EPA caved to pressure and included plenty of flexibility for the auto industry.

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