In a ruling that angered activists and academics fighting to hold ExxonMobil to account for its leading role in climate denial, the leaders of the European Parliament have declined to strip the fossil company’s lobbyists of their EU access badges.
Many environmental activists had hoped ExxonMobil’s access privileges would be lost “after the company failed to show up to a hearing on climate change denial, organized on March 21 in the EU assembly,” reports Euractiv. That was a real prospect, since “parliamentary rules allow the EU assembly to withdraw long-term access badges to company representatives” in case the holder “has refused, without offering a sufficient justification, to comply with a formal summons to attend a hearing or committee meeting or to cooperate with a committee of inquiry.”
With that kind of straightforward clout available to them, “the fact that many leaders in the EU Parliament have not managed to take a firm stance on undue actions by Exxon shows the conscious weakness of the only directly-elected European institution in the face of corporate lobbying,” said Friends of the Earth campaigner Myriam Douo.
On March 21, science historian Geoffrey Supran, who conducted a peer-reviewed analysis of Exxon’s 40-year history of climate change communications along with Harvard University professor Naomi Oreskes, “explained to MEPs how internal memos from the fossil fuel industry show that it has known about the potential dangers of global warming caused by its products for 60 years,” Supran wrote in a previous commentary for Euractiv. “Instead of warning the world or taking action, fossil fuel companies took the low road, spending the past 30 years—my entire life—sabotaging science, slandering scientists, and undermining policy to protect profits.”
He added: “Exhibit A of this history of denial and delay is ExxonMobil.”
In response to Supran’s and Oreskes’ exhaustive scholarship, Euractiv says Exxon cited “‘ongoing climate change-related litigation in the U.S.’ as preventing any public testimony on the matter”. But the colossal fossil “did send a letter to MEPs the day before, alleging that Supran’s peer-reviewed research was ‘inaccurate’ and contained ‘fundamental errors,’” a claim that Supran “vigorously rejected”, Euractiv states.
“The company’s letter calls for a ‘neutral review of the facts,’ yet makes its case by citing a non-peer-reviewed report commissioned and paid for by ExxonMobil,” Supran said. “These tactics are precisely the sort of expert-for-hire doubt-mongering and character assassination that I summarized in my testimony.”
Not all commentators are troubled by ExxonMobil’s actions, past or present, reports Euroactiv. Entities like the Institute for Statecraft are urging that the climate crisis “requires building support across political constituencies and interests, and it includes engaging with energy companies,” rather than “seeking to target and demonize them.”
“Surely the real focus of parliamentary questioning of energy companies in 2019 should be what are you doing for the energy transition?” Senior Fellow Alan Riley told Euroactiv. “How much research and development effort are you putting into the transition? How are you planning to integrate renewables into your growth plans? What is your exit strategy from fossil fuels?”
Supran might well reply that such serious questions presuppose a sincere and honourable interlocutor. In a letter to the MEPs involved in the March 21 hearing, Supran and Oreskes expressed deep disquiet about “the way in which ExxonMobil’s letter was allowed to influence the hearing’s proceedings”—namely, that Supran had no knowledge of the fossil giant’s attack until its “slanders” were “recited” by an MEP during the question and answer period following his appearance.
“We hope that you will agree that efforts by corporate interests and their parliamentary allies to undermine expert witness testimony—and to intimidate potential future expert witnesses—is an affront to your institution and demands serious attention,” they wrote.