Big Ag and Big Oil Team Up to Lobby for Clean Energy Credits

A coalition of companies like Cargill and Chevron hired new lobbyists as it works to convince policymakers that so-called "renewable natural gas" should get government subsidies.

Big Ag and Big Oil Team Up to Lobby for Clean Energy Credits
Dairy cattle line up to feed in California's Central Valley. (David McNew/Getty Images)

A gas industry trade association has hired a batch of revolving-door lobbyists as it works to convince policymakers that biomethane gas produced by factory farms should be eligible for renewable energy tax credits.

Environmental groups warn that if energy generated from burning biomethane gas qualifies for government subsidies that are now being developed, it could prop up gas company infrastructure and prolong dependence on polluting fossil fuels.

Last month, trade association the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas hired four lobbyists with the bipartisan lobbying firm Cogent Strategies, according to a Senate disclosure released on January 12. The new hands will lobby on “issues related to sustainable development, deployment and utilization of renewable natural gas.”

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Also known as the RNG Coalition, the trade group counts hundreds of member companies, encompassing fossil fuel giants like BP, Chevron, and Shell, as well as gas companies like Air Liquide. Other members include Cargill, the largest U.S. agricultural company by revenue, mammoth utility companies NextEra Energy and Southern Company, and pipeline firms Enbridge and Kinder Morgan.

The term RNG, also called biomethane, refers to gas from organic matter, composed primarily of methane, that is captured from sources like landfills, sewage treatment plants, and manure pits on farms and processed to higher standards. Industry groups like the RNG Coalition and the American Gas Association promote biomethane as a lower-carbon energy source, one that captures methane emissions and that can be integrated into existing gas systems.

Many climate advocates and energy analysts, however, recommend only a niche role for biomethane in decarbonization, as many of its proposed uses—for electricity generation, hydrogen fuel production, and building heat—can be realized with policies that promote wind and solar power. Burning biomethane releases carbon dioxide and its methane leakage rates could be as high as 15%, according to a new report from advocacy group Food & Water Watch. Researchers at the nonprofit World Resources Institute see a limited role for biomethane in decarbonizing industries where electrification poses challenges, like making fuel for heavy trucking, in contrast to the widespread applications envisioned by industry groups.

Some offices in the Biden administration have charted a path to 100% carbon pollution-free electricity. In May, the Department of Energy’s Office of Policy released a report that laid out “ten key all-of-society actions” that would be needed to achieve a renewably-generated power sector by 2035, including transmission and energy efficiency investments.

One of the new lobbyists for the industry group is Cogent managing director Andrew Kauders, who the firm bills as a veteran Hill leadership staffer. Kauders worked in 2006 as executive director of the House Democratic Caucus, a group that develops political and legislative strategies. During the Clinton administration, Kauders worked as the spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture and with the White House Climate Change Task Force.