San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Business - [email protected]

vey, and other cli­mate dis­as­ters, noted Katharine Hay­hoe, co-au­thor of the re­port and pro­fes­sor Texas Tech Uni­ver­sity. Hay­hoe is one of hun­dreds of sci­en­tists who worked on the cli­mate as­sess­ment, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment sci­en­tists from 13 fed­eral agen­cies.

Many en­ergy ter­mi­nals and re­finer­ies along the coast are at risk of storm surges, the re­port said. Glob­ally sea lev­els are ex­pected to rise 1 to 4 feet, but that the Texas Gulf Coast could see dou­ble the av­er­age in­crease in sea lev­els.

Even as en­ergy com­pa­nies face threats to their own fa­cil­i­ties from cli­mate change, Hay­hoe said, “the num­ber one rea­son why cli­mate is chang­ing is be­cause we’re dig­ging up and burn­ing coal, gas and oil.”

Cli­mate change is po­ten­tially an ex­is­ten­tial is­sue for oil in­dus­try. Com­pa­nies have al­ready come un­der pres­sure from share­hold­ers, call­ing on ex­ec­u­tives to ac­count for the im­pact of cli­mate change on their busi­nesses and plan for poli­cies aimed at ad­dress­ing it.

The New York At­tor­ney Gen­eral re­cently sued Exxon Mo­bil, al­leg­ing that the com­pany mis­led in­vestors on how cli­mate change would af­fect the com­pany — a claim that Exxon Mo­bil de­nies. En­vi­ron­men­tal and other groups have filed law­suits seek­ing to hold fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies re­spon­si­ble for cli­mate change and the dam­age it causes.

The cli­mate re­port es­ti­mated that cli­mate change could drain hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars from U.S. econ­omy ev­ery year, start­ing in the sec­ond half of the cen­tury. In the worst case sce­nario, the costs could reach 10 per­cent of the na­tion’s an­nual eco­nomic out­put — which to­day would equal about $2 trillion.

De­lay­ing or stop­ping roll­backs

An­a­lysts said the new cli­mate re­port and its un­equiv­o­cal con­clu­sions could bol­ster le­gal ar­gu­ments in cli­mate change cases, par­tic­u­larly in chal­lenges to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s moves to undo Obama-era rules around fuel ef­fi­ciency stan­dards, power gen­er­a­tion and meth­ane emis­sions from oil and nat­u­ral gas pro­duc­tion.

Vic­tor Flatt, an en­vi­ron­men­tal law pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Hous­ton, said that these and other reg­u­la­tions are based on the EPA’s find­ing that car­bon diox­ide and other green­house gases pose a dan­ger to pub­lic health and safety. That re­quires the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to con­trol green- house gas emis­sions from ve­hi­cles, sta­tion­ary sources (in­clud­ing power plants and some drilling) as well as from sources al­ready reg­u­lated un­der the Clean Air Act.

The gov­ern­ment’s cli­mate as­sess­ment could sup­port the le­gal un­der­pin­nings of the en­dan­ger­ment find­ing which “makes it harder to get rid of any ex­ist­ing reg­u­la­tion on cli­mate change,” Flatt said.

It should also pro­vide am­mu­ni­tion for Democrats af­ter they re­gain con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Jan­uary. Democrats are ex­pected to scru­ti­nize the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tions ef­forts to un­ravel en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions and cast doubts on cli­mate sci­ence.

Luke Met­zger, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of En­vi­ron­ment Texas, said en­ergy com­pa­nies should plan on stricter pol­lu­tion re­duc­tion re­quire­ments. “I do ex­pect the House (to have) vig­or­ous over­sight that might lead to some of these roll­backs be­ing de­layed or stopped.”

Met­zger noted that ma­jor en­ergy com­pa­nies such as Exxon Mo­bil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron that have an­nounced ef­forts to cut meth­ane emis­sions from oil and gas pro­duc­tion. Meth­ane, one of the most pow­er­ful green­house gases, is re­leased in the air when pro­duc­ers burn ex­cess gas in a process called flar­ing or when it leaks at wells, pumps and pipe­lines.

Com­pa­nies such as Shell, Exxon and BP have voiced their sup­port of car­bon tax ini­tia­tives, a mar­ket-based ap­proach to pro­vide in­cen­tives to choose fu­els that pro­duce less car­bon diox­ide. Exxon, the largest U.S. oil com­pany, do­nated $1 mil­lion to­ward back­ing a car­bon tax ad­vo­cacy group, although it is frac­tion of what the com­pany spends on lob­by­ing.

A case for car­bon taxes

Flatt said the gov­ern­ment’s cli- mate as­sess­ment could build the case for car­bon taxes by pro­vid­ing spe­cific es­ti­mates for eco­nomic costs of cli­mate change and “con­tinue to put pres­sure on at least set­ting the tax to re­flect that (cost).”

That could ac­cel­er­ate the in­dus­try’s shift to nat­u­ral gas. The world’s big­gest oil com­pa­nies al­ready are in­vest­ing bil­lions of dol­lars to pro­duce, process and trans­port nat­u­ral gas, which emits fewer green­house gases than coal or oil-based prod­ucts. The Amer­i­can Petroleum In­sti­tute pointed to gov­ern­ment find­ings that North Amer­i­can emis- sions from fos­sil fuel com­bus­tion dropped by an av­er­age of 1 per­cent an­nu­ally over the last decade, largely be­cause of the shift from coal to nat­u­ral gas as a ma­jor power source and bet­ter fuel ef­fi­ciency stan­dards in cars and trucks.

“The bot­tom line is that nat­u­ral gas and oil pro­duc­tion in Amer­ica is among the clean­est in the world,” said Kyle Isakower, vice pres­i­dent for Reg­u­la­tory and Eco­nomic Pol­icy at the Amer­i­can Petroleum In­sti­tute, in a state­ment. “Our in­dus­try con­tin­ues to demon­strate that meet­ing record de­mand and pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment are not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive,”

John Tin­tera, pres­i­dent of Texas Al­liance of En­ergy Pro­duc­ers, didn’t think re­port would be a turn­ing point for cli­mate pol­icy, but that it would add to the grow­ing body of re­search avail­able to reg­u­la­tors.

“There is no way — with­out do­ing se­vere harm to qual­ity of life — that you could sim­ply make oil and gas in­dus­try not func­tion. The neg­a­tive im­pact on so­ci­ety would be hor­ren­dous,” Tin­tera said. “Over the next five to 10 years oil and gas (in­dus­try lead­ers) are go­ing to demon­strate how help­ful it can be as part of the solution.”

Ja­son Hoekema / As­so­ci­ated Press

An all-ter­rain ve­hi­cle pushes into flood­wa­ters on June 20 in Wes­laco. Heavy rains along the Texas coast caused the flood­ing. Ris­ing sea lev­els and hur­ri­canes could in­flict up to $20.9 bil­lion in dam­age from flood­ing by 2030, ac­cord­ing to a gov­ern­ment re­port.

Kin Man Hui / File photo

Gas flares burn at Ritchie Farms, an oil lease in La Salle and Dim­mit coun­ties in this 2014 photo.

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