July 4, 2021: Senior executives from colossal fossils ExxonMobil, Shell, and Chevron ultimately received subpoenas from a powerful U.S. congressional subcommittee after the investigative reporting team at Unearthed, a branch of Greenpeace UK, revealed Exxon’s continuing efforts to undermine the Biden administration’s climate plans and “aggressively” combat climate science.
The initial revelations came from a Zoom call with a senior director of the company’s Washington, DC government affairs team, Keith McCoy, in which an Unearthed reporter posed as a job recruiter.
McCoy “told an undercover reporter that the company had been working to weaken key aspects of President Joe Biden’s flagship initiative on climate change, the American Jobs Plan,” Unearthed reported Wednesday. “He described Biden’s new plan to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as ‘insane’ and admitted that the company had aggressively fought early climate science through ‘shadow groups’ to protect its investments.”
In his call with Unearthed, McCoy:
• Revealed that he was in weekly contact with the office of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who’s been widely seen as the Democrats’ biggest obstruction to Biden’s climate and energy transition plan;
• Identified 10 other senators as Exxon’s key lobbying targets, including Republicans John Barrasso (WY), John Cornyn (TX), Steve Daines (MT), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), and Marco Rubio (FL) and Democrats Chris Coons (DE), Maggie Hassan (NH), Mark Kelly (AZ), Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), and John Tester (MT);
• Admitted that Exxon’s support for a carbon tax as its main climate policy was an “advocacy tool” and a “great talking point” that will never actually come to pass.
“Nobody is going to propose a tax on all Americans,” McCoy said, “and the cynical side of me says, ‘yeah, we kind of know that but it gives us a talking point that we can say, well what is ExxonMobil for? Well, we’re for a carbon tax.’”
He added that Exxon had not buried its own science on climate change, but had cast doubt on the scientific consensus on the climate crisis. “Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes. Did we hide our science? Absolutely not. Did we join some of these ‘shadow groups’ to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that’s true. But there’s nothing illegal about that. You know, we were looking out for our investments, we were looking out for our shareholders.”
Unearthed has clips from McCoy’s Zoom call here.
A second Exxon lobbyist, Dan Easley, who worked for the company as a White House lobbyist through the Trump years, “laughed when asked by an undercover reporter if the company had achieved many policy wins under Trump, before outlining victories on fossil fuel permitting and the renegotiation of the NAFTA trade agreement,” Unearthed says.
“The wins are such that it would be difficult to categorize them all,” he said, adding that one decision, the reduction in the U.S. corporate tax rate, was “probably worth billions to Exxon”.
Despite the lavish return on its investment in lobbying, Exxon has still found itself laying of 14,000 staff and writing off $20 billion in stranded assets in the last year, resulting in frustrated investors and an epic defeat in a board challenge by upstart hedge fund Engine No. 1.
An Exxon spokesperson said the allegations in the Unearthed exposé “contained a number of important factual misstatements that are starkly at odds with our positions on a variety of issues, including climate policy and our firm commitment to carbon pricing.”
Unearthed has much more on the story, and is promising further revelations on Exxon’s fight against a toxic chemical ban and plastic regulations.
On Friday, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), chair of the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on the Environment, said he would issue subpoenas to compel fossil companies’ testimony if they didn’t show up for a meeting voluntarily, the New York Times writes. “The video was appalling,” he said, adding that it spotlighted the industry’s effort to “engage in climate denialism and to manipulate public opinion and to exert undue influence in shaping policy in Congress.”
Khanna added that fossil execs have distinguished themselves so far with their refusal to comply when Congress invited them to drop by. “I find it mind boggling, honestly. Tech CEOs from my district have showed up. Wall Street executives showed up many times to Congress. Pharmaceutical executives,” he told the Times. “We fully plan to issue subpoenas if they don’t come voluntarily.”
Unearthed dropped its initial bombshell just days after a leaked draft of an upcoming UN science report blamed disinformation and lobbying campaigns by Exxon and others “for undermining government efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the dangers of global warming to society,” Politico reports.
The draft science review from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “blamed think tanks, foundations, trade associations, and other third-party groups that represent fossil fuel companies for promoting ‘contrarian’ science that misleads the public and disrupts efforts to implement climate policies needed to address the rising threats,” the news story states.
“Rhetoric on climate change and the undermining of science have contributed to misperceptions of the scientific consensus, uncertainty, unduly discounted risk and urgency, dissent, and, most importantly, polarized public support delaying mitigation and adaptation action, particularly in the U.S.,” the scientists wrote.