House Democrats demand oil execs testify on climate disinformation after Exxon undercover sting

‘We are concerned that to protect profits, the industry has reportedly led a coordinated effort to spread disinformation to mislead the public and prevent crucial action to address climate change,’ House Democrats write

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Friday 17 September 2021 00:06
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Democratic lawmakers are demanding that oil executives testify over a reported “long-running, industry-wide campaign to spread disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming”.

Chairs of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Subcommittee on the Environment, sent letters on Thursday to the top executives at ExxonMobil, BP America, Chevron, Shell Oil along with the industry’s powerful lobby group, American Petroleum Institute, and the US Chamber of Commerce.

The move comes after a senior ExxonMobil lobbyist was caught on tape earlier this year explaining the company’s tactics to undermine and obstruct legislation to address the climate crisis.

The Committee Chairs requested that the oil companies produce documents and communications by 30 September related to their organizations’ role in “misleading the public to prevent action on the climate crisis”.

They also want executives to appear before a committee hearing on 28 October, days before the consequential UN climate summit, Cop26, begins in the UK.

The letter was sent by New York Representative Carolyn B Maloney, chairwoman of Oversight Committee, and Representative Ro Khanna, of California, chairman of the Subcommittee on the Environment.

“We are deeply concerned that the fossil fuel industry has reaped massive profits for decades while contributing to climate change that is devastating American communities, costing taxpayers billions of dollars, and ravaging the natural world,” the lawmakers wrote.

“We are also concerned that to protect those profits, the industry has reportedly led a coordinated effort to spread disinformation to mislead the public and prevent crucial action to address climate change.”

Exxon toldThe Independent that the letter had been received. “We will continue to communicate with committee staff,” a spokesperson said.

Climate activists celebrated the announcement on Thursday.

“This is a landmark day in the climate fight,” said Jamie Henn, director of Fossil Free Media. “For decades, the fossil fuel industry has polluted our political process along with polluting our atmosphere. Exposing the industry’s disinformation is a critical step in holding it accountable for the damage it has done and clearing the way for meaningful change. Congressional hearings like these helped end the stranglehold Big Tobacco once had over our political process. They now must do the same for Big Oil.”

In June, Greenpeace aired Zoom calls between Keith McCoy, a senior director in Exxon’s DC government affairs team, and an undercover reporter from the environmental group.

On the video, Mr McCoy described President Biden’s plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions as “insane” and admitted that the company had aggressively fought early climate science through “shadow groups” to protect its business.

Greenpeace said that no serving Exxon executive has ever before admitted that the company fought climate science to protect its financial interests.

Mr McCoy also suggested that Exxon’s public pledge in support of a carbon tax to reduce emissions is just an “advocacy tool” and “great talking point” but won’t happen.

The letter from Rep Maloney and Rep. Khanna said that the fossil fuel industry was using “similar tactics deployed by the tobacco industry to resist regulation while selling products that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans”.

Since the Paris Agreement to curb global emissions was signed in 2015, the five largest publicly-traded oil and gas majors – ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP and Total – have invested more than $1billion of shareholder funds on misleading climate-related branding and lobbying, according to InfluenceMap.

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