Slowly but surely, one of the most pressing development issues facing the international community, energy poverty, is getting the recognition it deserves. Most notably, President Obama announced a signature initiative, Power Africa, to address the issue, replete with $7 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars. One of the smallest agencies in the U.S. government, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is a big part of that effort. That’s great news for Africa because OPIC punches well above its weight when it comes to clean energy finance, especially for the poor. The problem is that oil and gas companies are upset that OPIC now overwhelmingly supports clean energy. The polluters’ solution is to gut OPIC’s environmental and climate standards to enable them to dramatically expand oil and gas infrastructure across Africa. It’s a solution that will not only pad their profits, but confine millions of Africans to darkness.
In order to increase their investments in dirty fossil fuels, they need government agencies to give up any and all climate safeguards. While the oil and gas industry has never been a beacon of responsible stewardship of Africa’s natural resources, its message continues to be: We don’t need safeguards or regulation -- trust us.
The big polluter argument has drawn supporters like Bono’s ONE campaign which supports a new legislative effort to gut the greenhouse gas emissions cap at OPIC. Worse, gas manufacturers have succeeded in getting the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a bill that may direct OPIC to deregulate its investments. Now they are pushing hard to pass an extreme version of this bill in the Senate which would guarantee that OPIC’s investments would be deregulated to enable an expansion of dirty energy.
But just like the Greek Sirens of old, gutting climate safeguards at OPIC will lead us anywhere but the clean energy future we need. This business-as-usual approach will fail to end energy poverty and will instead saddle the continent with an outdated and heavily polluting grid at a time when cheap, clean energy is becoming widely available thanks to the help of development banks and decreased construction of dirty sources of energy like coal plants.