Oil Executives Grilled on Industry’s Role in Climate Disinformation

In a heated hearing Thursday, Democrats asked the CEOs of Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Shell big questions: Would they pledge to stop lobbying against emissions reduction efforts? And were they ready to tell their powerful business groups to stop working against electric vehicles?

None of the executives agreed.

Instead, executives from the four major oil and gas companies touted their support for a clean energy transition and said they had never engaged in campaigns to mislead the public about the role of emissions. of fossil fuels in global warming. All four acknowledged that the burning of their products was the root cause of climate change, but also told lawmakers that fossil fuels were not about to disappear.

“Oil and gas will continue to be needed for the foreseeable future,” said Darren Woods, CEO of Exxon Mobil. “Currently, we do not have adequate alternative energy sources. “

Democrats responded with forceful language during the more than six-hour hearing. “Some of us actually have to live the future that you all set on fire for us,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told leaders.

Democrats had hoped to return to the drama of the tobacco hearings of the 1990s, where lawmakers put the CEOs of cigarette companies on the spot and every leader told the country that smoking is not addictive. There were screams, shame and a protest involving a pot of M&M to show that companies were investing relatively little in renewables, around 1 percent of their total capital expenditure, according to the International Energy Agency.

But executives – Mr. Woods of Exxon Mobil, Gretchen Watkins of Shell, Michael K. Wirth of Chevron and David Lawler of BP – also appeared to have learned from the tobacco hearings, sticking to their scripts, pointing out their concerns. concerning global warming. and citing their internal emission reduction targets.

The four executives, along with Suzanne Clark of the United States Chamber of Commerce and Mike Sommers of the American Petroleum Institute industry group, have appeared on video screens, not in person, for fear of the pandemic.

Republicans on the House Monitoring and Reform Committee questioned the premises of the hearings, calling them a distraction from the bigger issues facing the nation and said oil executives should be thanked for the decades spent at keep houses warm and lights on.

“I’ll tell you what’s frustrating is a member of Congress telling US oil and gas companies to cut back on production,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, adding that he felt that rather, these companies should be commended for increasing their production. “God bless Chevron,” he said.

The hearing marked the first time that oil executives have been publicly pressured to answer questions, under oath, about whether their companies have misled the public about the reality of climate change by obscuring the scientific consensus: that the Burning fossil fuels increases Earth’s temperature and sea level with devastating consequences around the world, including intensifying storms, worsening drought and deadlier forest fires.

It came as President Biden urged lawmakers to vote to approve a $ 1.85 trillion climate and social policy package. On Monday, Biden will address world leaders at a United Nations summit in Glasgow to argue that the United States is cutting emissions and urging other countries to do more.

During Thursday’s House hearing, some of the biggest moments centered around what oil executives wouldn’t say.

In an exchange, Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, chair of the committee, asked the four if they would pledge to stop spending more money, directly or indirectly, to oppose efforts to reduce emissions and reduce emissions. fight against climate change.

“Do you want to take the oath?” Yes or no? ”Said Rep. Maloney.

In another, Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, called on executives to tell the American Petroleum Institute and other business groups that companies pay to represent their interests in Washington to stop funding ads. against electric vehicles and other climate policies.

“He’s sitting right next to you on the virtual screen,” Mr. Khanna said of API President Mr. Sommers. “Tell them to drop it.”

The executives did not commit to any of the requests.

“What I will commit to is to continue to be an active member of API,” said Ms. Watkins of Shell.

API, an industry group of which all four companies named in Thursday’s House testimony are members, spent nearly half a million dollars running ads opposing Democratic members of Congress. The ads, which include ads targeting individual members of Congress for their support for climate policies, have been viewed at least 21 million times, according to Facebook data.

Mr Woods, CEO of Exxon Mobil, has faced questions about the company’s statements over the years that have cast doubt on whether fossil fuels are the main driver of climate change. He said the positions were “very consistent” with the scientific consensus at the time.

He also said a 1997 statement by Lee Raymond, then chief executive of Exxon, that “currently scientific evidence is inconclusive” on the role of human activity in global warming was “consistent with the science ”. Two years earlier, the leading United Nations climate science body had come to a consensus that global warming is happening and that the burning of fossil fuels is a major cause.

Mr Woods also said that Exxon Mobil now recognizes climate change, but “there are no easy answers” to solving it.

Other executives accepted. Mr Lawler said that his company aiming to reach ‘net zero’ by 2050 – meaning it would no longer be pumping additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from its own operations – “doesn’t mean BP is getting out of the oil and gas business.” Mr. Wirth of Chevron said: “The undeniable reality is that oil and gas are always part of the energy equation.

A key Republican witness was Neal Crabtree, a former worker on the Keystone XL pipeline, a construction project President Biden canceled on groundbreaking day that would have transported oil sands crude from Canada to the United States. Just hours after Mr Biden took office, Mr Crabtree lost his job, he said, making him a victim of policies that were killing fossil fuel jobs. (He said he had since found other work.)

“There doesn’t seem to be a thought for the hundreds of thousands of workers in this industry,” he said. “I’ve spent over 25 years developing the skills I have,” he says. “I’m too far in life to start over.”

Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the senior Republican on the oversight committee, said Democrats were ignoring the bread and butter issues facing Americans like Mr. Crabtree. “It is essential that this committee examine the urgent concerns of American citizens,” he said, highlighting inflation, high gas prices, immigration issues and the coronavirus pandemic. He didn’t mention the weather.

The catalyst for the House hearings was an undercover operation earlier this year by militant group Greenpeace. The group filmed an Exxon lobbyist who said the company has fought climate science through “ghost groups” and targeted influential senators in an attempt to weaken President Biden’s climate proposals.

Mr Woods said at the time that the comments “do not in any way represent the company’s position, and several of the senators later said the lobbyist either exaggerated their relationship or that they had no relationship at all. with him. Shortly after, Mr. Khanna called on industry executives to testify before Congress.

Also at the hearing, Ms Maloney released a report from House committee staff showing that despite the four oil companies saying they support the Paris Agreement, a 2015 international agreement that aims to keeping global temperatures at relatively safe levels, few have pressed for support. The report found that the vast majority of corporate lobbying efforts are aimed at lowering taxes.

Former President Donald J. Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement during his tenure. President Biden joined him in January.

According to the study, the four oil companies and trade groups have reported 4,597 cases of lobbying in Congress since the signing of the agreement. Of these, only eight made reference to lobbying for the Paris Agreement, and none cited lobbying for legislation to reduce carbon emissions and promote the agreement’s goals.

Ms Maloney said she intended to issue subpoenas to companies to see if they were spending to fund campaigns to fight climate policy and, if so, how much. She said that although the companies submitted thousands of pages of documents to the committee, many of them were of little use. One company, she said, printed 1,500 pages from its own website.

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