Oil executives face congressional questions on climate disinformation

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WASHINGTON – 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. “We currently do not have adequate alternative energy sources.”

Democrats responded with forceful language during the more than six-hour hearing. “Some of us have to live with the future you all set on fire for us,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y., 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 has told the country that smoking is not addictive. There was shouting, shame and a protest involving a pot of M & M’s to argue that companies were investing relatively little in renewables, around 1% of their total capital spending, according to the International Agency for Research. energy.

But executives – Woods of Exxon Mobil, Gretchen Watkins of Shell, Michael Wirth of Chevron and David Lawler of BP – also appeared to have learned from audiences about tobacco, sticking to their scripts, highlighting concerns about global warming. and citing their internal emission reduction targets.

The 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 larger 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, R-Ohio, adding that he felt these companies should rather be commended for increasing their production. “God bless Chevron,” he said.

The hearing marked the first time oil executives have been asked to publicly answer questions, under oath, about whether their companies had misled the public about the reality of climate change by obscuring the scientific consensus: that the Burning fossil fuels is raising 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 Joe 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, Scotland, 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, DN.Y., 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 the fight against climate change.

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

In another, Representative Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Called on executives to tell the American Petroleum Institute and other business groups that companies are paying to represent their interests in Washington to stop funding advertisements against electric vehicles and climate policies.

“He’s sitting right next to you on the virtual screen,” Khanna said of 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 the API,” said Watkins.

API, an industry group of which the 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, some of which targeted individual members of Congress for their climate policy support, have been viewed at least 21 million times, Facebook data shows.

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

He also said that a 1997 statement by Lee Raymond, then CEO of Exxon, that “currently scientific evidence is inconclusive” on the role of human activity in global warming was “consistent with 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.

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

Other executives accepted. Lawler said that BP’s goal of reaching “net zero” by 2050 – meaning it would no longer be pumping additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from its own operations – “does not mean that BP is going out of oil and trading in gas.”

“The undeniable reality is that oil and gas remain part of the energy equation,” said Wirth.

A key Republican witness was Neal Crabtree, a former worker on the Keystone XL pipeline, a construction project Biden canceled on opening day. The pipeline would have transported oil sands crude from Canada to the United States. Just hours after Biden took office, 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 have spent over 25 years developing the skills that I have,” he said. “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 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 Biden’s climate proposals.

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 had exaggerated their relationship or had no relationship with. Him Soon after, Khanna called on industry executives to testify before Congress.

Also at the hearing, 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 maintain with global temperatures at relatively safe levels, few have lobbied to support this. The report found that the vast majority of corporate lobbying efforts are aimed at lowering taxes.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement during his tenure. 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.

Maloney said she intends to issue subpoenas to companies to see if they are 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.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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