BP has successfully lobbied US policymakers to weaken a landmark environmental law, clearing the way for major infrastructure projects to bypass checks.
US government documents show BP America lobbied in favour of Donald Trump’s decision to dilute legislation, which could make it easier for new projects, such as oil pipelines and power plants, to move forward with far less federal review of their impact on the environment.
Many green groups fear the changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act (Nepa) will increase greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the climate crisis.
The changes, unveiled by Trump this month, would narrow the list of projects that require an environmental impact assessment and in some cases eliminate the need for federal agencies to consider the cumulative effects of projects, including the impact on the climate crisis.
BP said in a letter to the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) in August 2018 that streamlining the Nepa process would “directly benefit BP’s operations in the US”. The letter was discovered by Greenpeace’s investigation unit.
BP is planning to increase its business in the US after agreeing to pay $10.5bn (£8bn) to buy BHP Billiton’s shale business last year.
Mel Evans, a campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said BP’s support for weakening environmental checks was “despicable, but not surprising”.
Bernard Looney, BP’s new chief executive, is preparing to announce plans to expand its climate targets to include emissions produced from the fuels and products it sells and not just from its own operations, according to Reuters.
The plans are likely to appear at odds with BP’s support for the American Petroleum Institute which it expresses in the CEQ letter. The API, a trade body for oil and gas producers, told the CEQ that emissions from fossil fuel products “should not be considered part of ‘indirect’ effects” under future environmental checks.
Michael Sommers, who heads the API, has taken the lead in criticising the “endless and repetitive reviews” required by Nepa, arguing that the laws had been “misused to delay and derail development, which hurts job creation, reduces tax revenue and saps investments in communities across the country”.
BP has also called for air quality checks to be scrapped and to limit the changes government agencies can demand to help mitigate the environmental impact of major projects.
It said companies should be allowed to pay for their own environmental assessments because the personnel constraints within some government agencies have had a significant impact on their ability to undertake the review “in a timely manner”.
In terms of air quality reviews, BP argued that third-party reviews were unnecessary and should be scrapped in favour of a review undertaken by the company which leveraged “the project proponent’s expertise”.
Its letter to the CEQ said BP supported more than 125,000 jobs in the US, and the company’s operations contributed $85bn to the American economy in 2017 alone.
A spokesman for BP said: “Neither BP nor API advocated to exclude all indirect greenhouse gas impacts from Nepa analysis. In fact, BP believes the Nepa analysis should include all direct and many indirect impacts.”
The company said it had worked alongside a US conservation group, The Nature Conservancy, to push only for changes which were “consistent with our strong support for the Paris [climate agreement] ambitions”.