Long-time energy industry insider Marty Durbin, who has worked on behalf of the U.S. oil and gas sector for the last decade, has taken the helm at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute (GEI) at what he said is a pivotal time as the country wrestles with how to address climate change.
As the newly named president of GEI, Durbin filled the role of Karen Alderman, who now leads the American Gas Association. Durbin previously was chief strategy officer at the American Petroleum Institute (API) and among other things was formerly CEO of America’s Natural Gas Alliance, which merged with API in 2015.
Since his days working in Congress for the late Democratic Sen. Alan Dixon and former Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher, Durbin said his latest gig offers another chance to influence a wider array of issues.
In an interview with NGI earlier this month, Durbin said GEI now has a “broader remit” to demonstrate “the critical role energy plays throughout the economy” that attracted him to the GEI.
“Frankly, the Chamber of Commerce has now been pretty actively shifting its view and its focus on the broader climate issue,” Durbin said. “I’m a big believer that the business community, writ large, and certainly the energy sector must be, and is going to be, an epic part of the solution to address all of our societal expectations when it comes to energy, the environment and climate.”
Durbin joined GEI just months after the Chamber unveiled an agenda aimed at taking a stronger role in the climate debate. GEI is promoting bipartisan solutions focused on technologies to help reduce environmental impacts instead of regulations. The agenda was rolled out at a time when the Green New Deal (GND) was dominating the conversation, an outline from House Democrats to create a federal program for advancing the nation’s energy demands with renewable and zero-emission sources.
The Chamber had explored whether the public would support alternatives, and polling helped inform its approach to pursue a legislative agenda targeting innovation and technology.
"What we wanted to do was set about to demonstrate ways the energy industry has been innovating, the billions of dollars of investments that have been made in the private sector, as well as the government, and really try to build upon that," said GEI spokesman Matt Latourneau. "We think that's a message that everybody can get behind.”
There is, however, little consensus on Capitol Hill, as Republicans have largely responded to the GND with an innovation agenda alternative that would advance carbon capture and sequestration or nuclear technology, among other things. States have stepped in to fill the void.
"We're certainly seeing more policy going on at the state and local level,” Durbin said. “It's not that there's no discussion going on at the federal level, but let's face it, we haven't had major climate or energy legislation in quite a while.”
States across the country are moving aggressively to curb emissions and implementing policies to decarbonize and power their economies with renewable resources in a growing trend that finds the fossil fuel industry taking a more proactive approach.
State lawmakers are not only proposing energy policies that could eventually have meaningful impacts on natural gas demand, but they’re enacting them, and in some cases, meeting early goals to wean constituents off fossil fuels. There are concerns that the approach is short-sighted, would diminish the role of natural gas in backing up renewables and undermine other technologies that could better aid the environment and energy security.
"I see it as an opportunity,” Durbin said. “Frankly, if I was still at API, I'd be looking at it the same way. I think all of these energy associations have got to determine how they're going to position themselves for this debate that's already here and is going to continue. I think it's incumbent upon all of us, both individually and collectively, to lean into this and say here's how we're going to be part of that solution."
Durbin said in the coming months, he’ll be meeting with the Chamber’s member companies to further discuss GEI’s role. While those conversations are to include a wide variety of energy players across the space, oil and gas will still factor heavily into GEI’s strategy. Durbin views the industry as an important part of the economy and the nation’s goal of energy independence.
He acknowledged that oil and gas faces a complex set of challenges and is being pressured to evolve as the energy landscape shifts. Today’s problems, Durbin said, are not much different than those of the past.
"Having been working with the natural gas and oil industry for quite a while now, I'd say it's not a whole lot worse now than it was 10 years ago as we were going state by state on issues about hydraulic fracturing,” he said. “Having been involved in that, in some ways, I think we've overlooked the fact that this is one of the best news stories this country has seen in energy."
GEI can better help to tell that story, Durbin said. The institute, he said, is in a strong position to help advocate for a variety of energy sources and educate the public and policymakers about how energy is produced and consumed.
Other challenges are also ahead. The trade war with China, and President Trump’s push to realign commerce with other nations closer to home like Mexico and Canada, have impacted the energy sector, affecting pipelines, petrochemicals and exports, among other things. The regulatory battles that energy interests face in states such as New York, bent on undermining infrastructure projects, will also require attention.
"Trade and infrastructure are big challenges at this point; things haven't fallen off the table yet. But I can tell you that the industry is certainly concerned about where trade policy is going here...trade with the rest of the world really helped allow for the shale revolution. It was truly a global market that allowed that to happen," Durbin said.
Durbin said his understanding of the business community and energy sector, along with experience in running similar organizations and working with executives from some of the nation’s and globe’s largest companies, would help him navigate those sorts of challenges.
GEI "has been trying to find a way to drive common sense, reasonable energy policy that can be supported and shared by the general public, elected officials and the business community itself," he added, saying that the institute’s goal remains the same and will guide his priorities.