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The Obama administration’s faltering efforts to pass climate change legislation suffered another blow on Tuesday when BP and ConocoPhillips abruptly pulled out of the leading business group lobbying for curbs on US greenhouse gas emissions.

By withdrawing from the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), the oil groups, together with Caterpillar, the heavy machinery company, signalled that they would take a more focused approach to the issue by pushing for specific policies that would benefit them, rather than the principle of reducing emissions.

“It’s really important that we get climate change legislation…but it’s about what’s in the bill, not just about getting a bill,” Red Cavaney senior vice-president of government affairs at Conoco, said. “We need to spend time addressing the issues that impact our shareholders and consumers.”

BP and Conoco on Tuesday said the proposed energy legislation that has stalled in the Congress would impose an unfair burden on the oil industry.

“We will continue to work for passage of federal legislation that… is environmentally effective, reduces emissions across the US economy in a measured and affordable way and which treats all energy consumers and producers in a fair and equitable manner,” BP, Europe’s biggest oil company, said. “We don’t believe legislation currently pending in the Congress achieves these objectives.”

The two oil majors have been working together to propose a “linked fee” – something between a tax and a full-blown cap-and-trade system for reducing carbon emissions – that they say would provide more predictability for consumers.

The House of Representatives has passed a cap-and-trade bill but efforts to get similar legislation through the Senate have ground to a halt as healthcare reform and jobs have taken priority. The Obama administration has instead increasingly turned to regulation to impose limits on carbon emissions.

Royal Dutch Shell is now the only large oil company still a member of USCAP, which was founded in 2007 to set out a plan for a limit on greenhouse gases and tradeable emissions permits. The group played down the departures, saying that its membership was constantly changing. Three companies – AES, Alstom and Honeywell – joined in October.

Daniel Weiss, a climate change analyst at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank, said the companies’ were now more interested in lobbying for policies that affected them directly.

“They are now at the stage where they are interested in cutting deals that benefit their specific companies, rather than supporting the overall architecture,” Mr Weiss said.

Financial Times, 16 February 2010