Top executives from oil giants ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Shell denied they had engaged in campaigns to mislead the public about climate change, as they testified under oath before the U.S. Congress’s main investigative committee last week.
Instead, during the six-hour landmark hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee, the fossil giants insisted they had made efforts to transition to clean energy. It is worth noting, as the Washington Post did, that the oil execs, as well as representatives of the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, agreed to testify only after Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) threatened to haul them in under subpoena.
The tone of the hearing was occasionally scathing.
“I need Chevron to cut the check. You owe $50 billion to Indigenous communities and people that you harmed for profit,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) told Chevron CEO Michael Wirth.
“It’s not lost on me that we are having a hearing today surrounding fossil fuel misinformation and disinformation campaigns on the same day that we are scheduled to vote on legislation that has been deeply influenced by the lobbying efforts of the fossil fuel industry,” added Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
Not available at the hearing were reams of documents relevant to the question of the oil industry’s involvement in spreading disinformation and impeding climate action, which the Democrats had spent months leading up to the inquiry trying to secure.
At the end of the marathon hearing, subcommittee chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) said she would be issuing subpoenas for these documents, The Associated Press reports.
Heated writes that the forthcoming orders “will force Big Oil to provide information on companies’ payments to ‘shadow groups’ that promote climate denial”, as well as their contracts with more than 150 public relations companies that Maloney says may have helped the companies spread climate misinformation.
The subpoenas “will also seek funding information for Big Oil’s social media advertisements,” and “board materials the committee needs to examine corporate strategies on climate change,” Heated adds.
In his submission to the subcommittee, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods said the company “has long acknowledged the reality and risks of climate change, and it has devoted significant resources to addressing those risks.” (Certainly, Exxon has long understood the risks posed to its immediate bottom line, with this summer’s revelations about its $5 million anti-Biden Facebook ad campaign in 2020 being part of the latest in a very long history of putting its profit ahead of the planet.)
The oil giant’s public statements on climate “are and have always been truthful, fact-based … and consistent” with mainstream climate science, Woods said.
Chevron CEO Wirth echoed that assertion, declaring that “any suggestion that Chevron has engaged in an effort to spread disinformation and mislead the public on these complex issues is simply wrong.”
The Democrats at the hearing (the committee is composed of 25 Democrats, 20 Republicans) “immediately challenged” this narrative, writes AP. When Maloney retorted that the fossil CEOs “are obviously lying like the tobacco executives were,” the news agency explains, she was referring to a 1994 hearing with tobacco executives who famously testified that they didn’t believe nicotine was addictive.
Ocasio-Cortez observed to the assembled CEOs that “what is often lost in these conversations is that some of us have to actually live the future that you all are setting on fire for us.” Invoking projections that by 2038, drought, fire, and heat trends could potentially make parts of the United States unlivable, she added: “We do not have the privilege or the luxury of lobbyist spin.”
Republican committee members accused Democrats of playing politics as their climate agenda “teeters in Congress,” writes AP, citing comment by the oversight panel’s top Republican, James Comer (R-KY), who declared that the hearing’s purpose was “clearly” to deliver “partisan theatre for prime time news.”
As Comer himself confirmed last August in his opening remarks during a hearing into the health impacts of climate change, he is hardly a disinterested party: he represents the first- and second-largest coal-producing counties in Kentucky, which is itself the fifth-highest coal producer in the country.
Prior to declaring his own vested interest in ensuring that the fossil boat not be rocked, Comer invoked the declining mental health of children worried by climate change as reason to “move past doomsday scenarios and headlines and focus on the energy policy steps,” while bearing in mind their “costs and impacts” on fossil jobs and revenue losses.
Comer said he feared that “a premature move away from fossil fuels, particularly for poorer areas, means that they will continue to have little access to the type of cheap, reliable energy that enables economic growth, that allows for the provision of clean water and sanitation, widespread vaccination, and preventative child health services.”
Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH) declared it “shameful how the other side wants to demonize our oil and gas industry,” notes Grist, while Rep Bryon Donalds (R-FL) addressed the fossil CEOs directly: “I’m sorry for you, and I’m sorry for the people in our country who have to witness shenanigans like this.”