Climate Corner: Industry shills making the public pay more

Dec 11, 2021

Eric Engle

We at Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action understand the transition to hybrid and electric vehicles will take time as both the government and private sector move to accommodate the infrastructure needs of EVs and plug-in hybrids and as folks are still tied to financing for their current internal combustion engine vehicles, etc. But we also know that the sooner we can make these transitions, the less things like oil price spikes will impact our personal finances. Let’s take a look at those oil price spikes and who is behind them.

The government watchdog group Accountable.US recently released a report that showed that the largest oil and gas companies made a combined $174 billion in profits for the first nine months of this year, as reported to the public by The Guardian newspaper.

The Guardian reports, “The bumper profit totals, provided exclusively to the Guardian, show that in the third quarter of 2021 alone, 24 top oil and gas companies made more than $74 billion in net income. From January to September, the net income of the group, which includes Exxon, Chevron, Shell and BP, was $174 billion.”

The Guardian reporting continues, “The analysis of major oil companies’ financials shows that 11 of the group gave payouts to shareholders worth more than $36.5 billion collectively this year, while a dozen bought back $8 billion-worth of stock.”

“The oil and gas industry has fought Joe Biden’s attempts to pause new drilling permits on federal land,” the reporting states, “despite its unwillingness to expand operations in order to reap the returns of costlier oil and the fact the industry currently sits on 14 million acres of already leased land that isn’t being used, an area about double the size of Massachusetts.”

“A lot of this has been driven by investor sentiment,” said Helima Croft, head of global commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, to The Guardian regarding the current reluctance by oil and gas companies to expand production. “They don’t want them to spoil the party.”

While those of us still driving internal combustion engine vehicles and hybrids are facing the highest gas prices in seven years, these oil and gas companies and their investors are riding high and making sure they don’t do anything to slow their cash flow, like producing more oil on lands they already have leased. I don’t want to stay beholden to a system like this, do you? And, as the reporting from The Guardian concludes, “Aside from its role in the current high gasoline prices, the oil and gas industry is a leading driver of the climate crisis, the reality of which it sought to conceal from the public for decades and is a key instigator of the air pollution that kills nearly 9 million a year, a death toll three times that of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.”

None of this is to say that electric utilities or those who regulate them are much better to consumers. After all, the West Virginia Public Service Commission did just saddle West Virginia ratepayers who are Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power customers with about $483 million in costs for upgrading three old coal fired power plants to meet air quality standards, keeping them uneconomically running past 2028. And I just saw in the Marietta Times where the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio asked for edits to the draft of a report of an auditor it hired to remove language like “keeping the [coal fired] plants running does not seem to be in the best interests of the ratepayers.” This language was not included in the publicly released report from the auditor.

Unlike with private oil and gas companies, however, at least we have some electoral control over who is appointed to agencies like PUCO and WVPSC. We need to elect Governors who will stop appointing industry shills and cronies to these bodies and will instead appoint people who will look out for us as electricity consumers. Ohio, you’re electing a Governor again this coming year. Choose wisely! And the more affordable that renewable energy at the household level becomes, the easier it will be for more and more of us to go off-grid and pursue true energy independence, including when charging our cars or using our EVs as generators!

So much of our inflationary problems right now are being driven by corporate greed. Gasoline is one area where we don’t have to continue to be beholden to these greedy, selfish inflation profiteers. Ditching internal combustion engines as fast as possible just makes sense and saves cents! Sen. Manchin needs to sign off on the Build Back Better Act, along with all of his fellow Senate Democrats, as soon as possible to help more of us make the transition to EVs and save us money. And the additional tax credits for purchases of EVs made by U.S. union labor needs to remain in the legislation!


Eric Engle is chairman of the not-for-profit volunteer organization Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, Board Member for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, and Co-Chairman of the Sierra Club of West Virginia Chapter’s Executive Committee.