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GOP lawmakers say transition ‘cheerleader’ IEA strayed from mandate

A pump jack operates in front of a drilling rig at sunset in an oil field in Midland, Texas U.S. August 22, 2018.

Nick Oxford | Reuters

Senior U.S. lawmakers believe the International Energy Agency has “strayed from its core mission” of safeguarding energy security and has emerged as a “cheerleader” for the green transition.

“We would argue that in recent years the IEA has been undermining energy security by discouraging sufficient investment in energy supplies — specifically, oil, natural gas, and coal. Moreover, its energy modeling no longer provides policymakers with balanced assessments of energy and climate proposals. Instead, it has become and ‘energy transition’ cheerleader,” said a letter dated March 20, penned by Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming — ranking member on the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources — and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., chair of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

“IEA forecasts have a tremendous influence on shaping how the world sees future energy trends. Consequently, the IEA must conduct its energy security mission in an objective manner. We believe the IEA is failing to fulfil these responsibilities,” said the letter, which is addressed to IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “It should disturb you that biased parties are exploiting the IEA’s forecasts and other products to advocate for policies that undermine energy security.”

The IEA has taken a vanguard role in advocating for global decarbonization, and in a landmark 2021 analysis called for no new oil, gas, or coal development, if the world intends to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Among other items, the letter signatories accused that the IEA’s 2021 report is “long on aspiration but short on the things that matter most to policymakers: objective analysis of energy flows, trade patterns, security impacts, and economic effects.”

They further inquired into the IEA’s forecast and modeling methodology, as well as into the extent of funding that the agency has received from the U.S. The IEA does not outright disclose its donors, stating that its budget and the scope of its work are determined every two years by its governing board and comprise voluntary contributions from countries, energy stakeholders and private sources.

The IEA on Thursday confirmed receipt of the letter to CNBC and stressed that its mandate remains maintaining energy security and accelerating clean energy transitions.

“In this context, we welcome feedback on our work and attach great importance to our dialogue with the U.S. Congress, where we regularly participate in hearings to provide expert testimony across a wide range of energy policy issues,” it said in a statement.

“As part of the IEA’s long-term energy system modelling, we produce a number of scenarios that are built on different underlying assumptions about how the energy system might evolve over time. As we highlight in our work, the different scenarios aim to help inform decision making by showing the effects of different policy, technology and investment choices. The scenarios are not predictions of exactly what will happen.”

The IEA’s peak demand projections, in particular, have repeatedly come under open fire from heavyweight oil producer Saudi Arabia and members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. OPEC itself is no stranger to U.S. pressure, with the oil alliance’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia and the White House engaging in a brief but diplomatically visceral war of words in late 2022 over crude production cuts. OPEC has also been targeted by Congress’ long-protracted and yet-to-be-enacted No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels (NOPEC) bill.

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The lawmakers’ letter comes seven months ahead of presidential polls in the United States, where oil production has been breaking records and historically loomed as a sticking point with the domestic electorate. Democratic incumbent U.S. leader Joe Biden has championed decarbonization, while Republican front-runner Donald Trump has stood by further drilling. U.S. energy major Exxon Mobil, which is battling activist investors on climate policies, has meanwhile extolled the merits of focusing on dialing down emissions, rather than extirpating the use of hydrocarbons.

The U.S. was a founding member of the IEA in the 1970s, joining a mission of responding to global oil shocks after the crisis of 1973 — when the Organization of the Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) declared an oil embargo against countries that supported Israel. As part of their membership commitments, IEA countries must ensure they retain oil stock levels equivalent to at least 90 days of their net imports, with which they can respond in the event of global supply disruptions.

Two years ago, IEA countries agreed their largest and fifth-ever oil stock release in response to Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine.

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