Big Oil clashes with US Democratic lawmakers over climate 'disinformation'

New York (AFP) – US oil industry executives faced tough questions from congressional Democrats on Thursday over their statements on climate science and whether actions on green energy live up to their marketing campaigns.


Big Oil critics in the House of Representatives likened the hearing with CEOs of ExxonMobil, Chevron and other oil giants to a famous 1994 congressional hearing in which tobacco executives testified under oath that nicotine was not addictive.

But Democrats were unable to secure any expressions of regret by in a free-flowing session titled, "Fueling the Climate Crisis: Exposing Big Oil's Disinformation Campaign to Prevent Climate Action."

Leading oil companies are on the record as acknowledging the science of climate change and the need to take actions, professing to support the Paris Climate Agreement and carbon pricing. But critics accuse the industry of "greenwashing."

"I hope that today's hearing represents a turning point for Big Oil," said Representative Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who chaired the hearing. "I hope that today the witnesses will finally own up to the industry's central role in this crisis and become part of the change we need."

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans defending the industry came out swinging against President Joe Biden's energy policies which they say have led to higher gasoline prices, including a move to shut down the Keystone Pipeline.

Representative Jody Hice, a Georgia Republican, accused Democrats of "shamelessly creating fear in a whole new generation" by highlighting climate change in order to promote a "liberal socialist wish list" of policies.

Coming clean?

The hearing comes amid rising worries about climate change in the wake of worsening hurricanes and forest fires.

But Maloney was thwarted during an exchange with ExxonMobil Chief Executive Darren Woods over research dating to the 1970s in which Exxon scientists characterized climate change as a dire concern caused by fossil fuel emissions, and a newspaper advertisement on climate change in 200 headlined "Unsettled Science."

"There is a clear conflict between what Exxon's CEOs told the public and what the scientists were telling them," Maloney said, who pressed Woods on whether Exxon's conduct "ethical."

But Woods defended the company, saying the stance was consistent with climate science at the time and noting that the fine print of the 2000 ad recommended lower-emission technologies because "climate change may pose long-term risks."

"I don't think it's fair to judge something 25 years ago by" the standards of current scientific knowledge, Woods said.

Democratic Representative Ro Khanna of California unsuccessfully sought to win commitments from oil executives to quit supporting trade groups that oppose key climate legislation.

These include Biden's proposals to fund charging stations for electric vehicles and to crack down on methane emissions from oil and gas production.

"You're funding these groups ... but they're spending millions of dollars to kill electric vehicles," Khanna said.

But executives from Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron declined Khanna's request to rebuke a fellow panelist from the American Petroleum Institute, saying it is normal to have some disagreements with trade groups.

Representative John Sarbanes, Democrat of Maryland, said the industry needs to be judged "by their actions" not their words.

A memo released ahead of the hearing took the companies to task over their lack of action on Capitol Hill to lobby for climate change policies, including when former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Accord -- a stance reversed by Biden.

ExxonMobil reported only one instance of lobbying on the Paris Agreement between 2015 and 2021, while lobbying 74 times against a bill to repeal tax breaks and 36 times on US corporate tax cuts approved in 2017.

Chevron, which like ExxonMobil has publicized its commitment to low-carbon energy, lobbied just eight times on carbon pricing legislation since 2011, less than one percent of its total lobbying over the period, the report said.