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French oil giant Total exits American Petroleum Institute over climate change

By Dieter Holger

API says subsidizing electric vehicles and more distorts the market

Total SE exited the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group that counts major oil companies among its members, after deciding it wasn't aligned with the organization on climate change.

Paris-based Total(FP.FR), Europe's second largest publicly-traded oil-and-gas company by market value, said Friday that it was only "partially aligned" with the API's positions on climate-change policy and wouldn't renew its membership for 2021, citing disagreements with the API's stances against electric-vehicle subsidies, carbon pricing and methane emission regulations.

"We are committed to ensuring, in a transparent manner, that the industry associations of which we are a member adopt positions and messages that are aligned with those of the group in the fight against climate change," Patrick Pouyanne, chairman and chief executive of Total, said in prepared remarks.

In response to Total's disagreements, an API spokesperson said the organization doesn't "support subsidizing energy because it distorts the market and ultimately proves harmful to consumers."

"We believe that the world's energy and environmental challenges are large enough that many different approaches are necessary to solve them, and we benefit from a diversity of views," the API spokesperson said. "Our industry's focus continues to be on taking meaningful action and shaping policy at all levels of government to reduce U.S. emissions and ensure access to affordable and reliable energy."

Total's move comes amid mounting pressure from investors on oil-and-gas companies to cease lobbying efforts that might curtail climate-change policy.

In May 2020, Total pledged to reach net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions across its operations and the energy it sells in Europe by 2050, following a campaign from institutional investors representing more than $40 trillion in assets. It outlined more specifics in September 2020.

Founded in 1919, API said it has more than 600 members "from the largest major oil company to the smallest of independents" across the U.S. oil-and-gas industry, including Chevron Corp.(CVX), Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM)and ConocoPhillips(COP). The group also counts European oil-and-gas companies BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell PLC(RDSA.LN), Equinor ASA(EQNR.OS) and Repsol SA among its ranks, according to the membership list on its website.

"Total's decision to quit API is a sign of the times and this heaps pressure on Equinor, Shell and BP to follow suit very soon," Jeanett Bergan, head of responsible investment at Norway's $80 billion pension fund KLP, said.

In 2018, the API's total expenses were $242 million, including $16.9 million for lobbying and $42.3 million for advertising and promotion, according to its most recently available tax filing. The nonprofit InfluenceMap gives the API an "F," its worst grade, due to its lobbying against climate-change policy.

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01-15-21 1253ET

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