Video and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — The Shell Oil Co. is a big polluter in Rhode Island, but the fossil-fuel giant is getting some positive publicity for helping to fix a problem it’s accused of creating.
Shell, based in Houston and the Netherlands, has a massive terminal at the Port of Providence that is drawing legal action from groups for its failure to address climate change.
In July, the Rhode Island attorney general sued Shell and 20 fossil-fuel companies for contributing to climate change, knowing the impacts and failing to act on them.
The Conservation Law Foundation is also suing Shell for not safeguarding its waterfront gas and oil storage facility from climate-change consequences such as flooding and sea-level rise.
The multinational corporation, however, was recently recognized at a press event at Save The Bay for contributing to a new federal grant program. With its logo prominently displayed, Shell was applauded, along with the reinsurance company TransRe and federal agencies, for supporting coastal restoration projections.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., has been a persistent critic of the oil industry and companies such as Shell for funding climate change-denial campaigns and stalling legislation while knowing the risks of harmful greenhouse-gas emissions.
But at the Nov. 9 press event, Whitehouse said praise is warranted for good efforts, especially local ones, by companies that might otherwise be “deliberately unhelpful to solve the climate problem.”
“These are big organizations and they sometimes do good things and those should be celebrated. And they sometimes do very bad things — let’s just leave it at that,” Whitehouse said.
Any effort to address climate change in Washington, D.C., is going to depend on the fossil-fuel industry stopping its “mischievous efforts” to undo and obstruct efforts to address climate change, Whitehouse added.
He urged other companies with good policies on climate change to help the cause.
“The fault lies not only in the fossil-fuel industry but also in other American corporations that have terrific climate policies but don’t bring that sensibility to Congress with them,” Whitehouse said.
In the press release announcing the grants, the term “climate change” is absent. Instead the announcement uses terms such as “coastal resilience” and refers to rebuilding after hurricanes and safeguarding vulnerable coastal areas.
The press release quotes Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., who has said he believes that global temperatures are rising but said the evidence doesn’t clearly explain why and supports “encouraging technology to burn clean burning coal.”
Of the $28.5 million awarded to 22 states and Puerto Rico, Rhode Island received less than 1 percent, or $280,140. The money will earn a match of $347,000 that will pay to identify 10 future projects that repair and reinforce coastal areas that are at risk to climate change. Whitehouse said the funds are a foothold for future grants.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) awarded the first-ever grants through the new National Coastal Resilience Fund, which was created by Whitehouse and Kennedy.
NFWF is an independent nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.. Its 30-member board of directors is approved by the secretary of interior, which at the moment is friend-of-industry Ryan Zinke.
According to its website, NWFW doesn’t single out polluters. “NFWF neither advocates nor litigates. Instead, the foundation specializes in bringing all parties to the table — individuals, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and corporations — to build a better future for our world.”
This neutral stance was evident in the press release.
“Through this latest partnership with private industry and NFWF, the Department of Commerce and NOAA will continue our mission to ensure the safety and long-term prosperity of the millions of Americans who call America’s coasts home,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is quoted.
“Shell was there for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and there for Houston after Hurricane Harvey,” said Bruce Culpepper, chair and president of Shell’s U.S operations.