The United Mine Workers of America is calling for a boycott of BP PLC's gas stations after the oil giant's CEO called it unwise for U.S. policymakers to try to save coal jobs.
The response to CEO Tony Hayward's comments shows that the battle between the gas and coal industries is spreading beyond the war of words in Washington.
"If he's going to advocate putting our members out of jobs and out of their homes, then our members can make a decision for themselves," said Phil Smith, spokesman for the 105,000-member union.
BP officials responded that their chief executive was criticizing House-passed climate change legislation, not going after jobs in the coal industry.
"BP CEO Tony Hayward was merely pointing out that the House climate bill disproportionately favored higher-carbon forms of energy over lower carbon alternatives," BP spokesman Scott Dean said. "To quote from Hayward's speech, BP is advocating 'a broad and sustainable mix that embraces oil, gas, coal and renewables, [and] producing and using them all with innovation and efficiency.'"
The union Tuesday sent out an "activist alert" to members titled "BP says no to coal. Say no to BP!" The alert was sent to about 1,500 activists and was put on the union's Facebook page, which has 400 members.
"Next time you go to fill up, you might want to think twice about buying your gas -- or anything else -- from BP," the alert suggests.
The alert cited coverage of Hayward's remarks at a Washington think tank on Tuesday about House climate legislation that protected the coal industry from its immediate impact (Greenwire, March 24). He said Congress should not go out of its way to help coal at the expense of cleaner fuels, like natural gas.
"The coal sector was disproportionately favored in the first go at this," Hayward said in a question-and-answer session after his speech. "It's about creating jobs. We've got to find a better way to create jobs than preserving coal jobs."
BP is one of the world's largest producers and refiners of oil and gas. But it has little or no stake in coal, a fact that the coal industry highlighted in challenging Hayward's assertions.
Gas executives across the industry were irritated that the House bill that passed last year included significant concessions to protect coal industry jobs and coal-state lawmakers. If lawmakers want to cut carbon emissions, gas companies say, they should look more to natural gas, which emits about half as much carbon as coal. They say gas should be the "bridge fuel" to a low-carbon future or, even better, a permanent fixture of a diverse approach to lowering emissions.
BP is among the petroleum companies lobbying to improve the fortunes of natural gas in the Senate climate bill being drafted by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) (see related story). Among other efforts, the company has circulated a "discussion draft" of language that would block federal regulation of a gas drilling technique that has opened up huge domestic sources of gas (E&E Daily, March 23).
BP is also one of the companies pressing for a "carbon fee" on the fuel, essentially a gasoline tax, rather than wrap the oil industry into a sweeping cap-and-trade system that covers most of the U.S. economy.
In his appearance before the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Hayward also said that with the vast supplies of natural gas now available in the United States, the country should be weaning itself from coal-fired electricity.
"It's surprising the U.S. is still building coal-fired power plants," he said, noting that some American coal plants are 100 years old.
The coal industry stresses that coal is the country's most abundant energy resource and that coal prices have remained affordable and stable. Gas prices, by contrast, have swung wildly during the past decade. They warn that moving too fast on climate legislation would be jarring to the nation's economy and job market.
Click here to see the mine workers' call for a BP boycott.