Exxon and BP called to testify on climate after ‘troubling’ new documents

Congressman calls documents related to the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to discredit climate science ‘very concerning’

US congressional investigators say they have uncovered “very concerning” new documents about ExxonMobil’s disinformation campaign to discredit climate science.

Representative Ro Khanna, a leading critic of the petroleum industry on the House oversight committee, said the documents came to light ahead of a hearing next month to question the heads of large oil companies about their industry’s long history of undermining the evidence that burning fossil fuels drove global heating.

Khanna declined to discuss the information beyond describing it as “very troubling facts and some very concerning documents”.

On Thursday, the House oversight committee sent out letters summoning the heads of four firms – Exxon, Chevron, Shell and BP – to testify on 28 October.

The letter to Darren Woods, Exxon’s chief executive, said the “fossil fuel industry has reaped massive profits” while devastating communities, ravaging the natural world and costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

“We are also concerned that to protect those profits, the industry has reportedly led a coordinated effort to spread disinformation to mislead the public and prevent crucial action to address climate change,” the letter said.

The hearings follow a secret recording of an Exxon lobbyist earlier this year describing the oil giant’s backing for a carbon tax as a public relations ploy intended to stall more serious measures to combat the climate crisis.

“The big oil companies owe the American people an explanation,” said Khanna, a California Democrat who chairs the environmental subcommittee. “They need to admit what they’ve done on climate misinformation in the past, they need to acknowledge what they’re currently doing in terms of spending dark money, and they need to commit 100% that they’re going to stop any climate disinformation campaign.”

The congressman said it was “unbelievable” that oil industry leaders have yet to face questioning by Congress about the climate crisis. He likened the hearings to the groundbreaking appearance of seven tobacco company chiefs before Congress in 1994 to expose what the cigarette companies knew about the hazards of smoking. He said the oversight committee is currently being advised by some of those involved in those hearings.

Khanna said he wants to hear from the leaders of the oil giants not only about past actions but their continued funding of front groups and thinktanks spreading disinformation about climate science, the covert funding of denialist advertising and the use of lobby groups to oppose green legislation.

“The magnifying glass is particularly important now so that they don’t interfere with the Congress’s agenda to get all kinds of legislation. We will not tackle the climate crisis successfully if we don’t first put an end to climate disinformation,” he said.

The committee is also requesting that the heads of two major trade groups closely aligned with the oil industry, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the US Chamber of Commerce, answer questions about their role in the coverup.

Minnesota’s attorney general, Keith Ellison, is suing API, alleging that it “engaged in a public-relations campaign that was not only false, but also highly effective” to undermine climate science.

Democratic senator Sheldon Whitehouse told the Guardian earlier this year that API was acting as a front for the industry by allowing oil firms to claim they were committed to addressing climate change while API lobbied against green policies in Congress. Whitehouse accused API of “lying on a massive industrial scale”.

In 1998, after countries signed the Kyoto Protocol to help curb carbon emissions, API drew up a multimillion-dollar disinformation campaign to ensure that “climate change becomes a non-issue”. The plan said “victory will be achieved” when “recognition of uncertainties become part of the ‘conventional wisdom’”.

Similarly, the US Chamber of Commerce has helped downplay the climate crisis and oppose legislation to curb greenhouse emissions.

In 2015, the Columbia Journalism School and the Los Angeles Times uncovered a raft of Exxon documents held at the University of Texas that showed the company worked to undermine climate science by promoting denialism.

Exxon’s chairman and chief executive, Lee Raymond, told industry executives in 1996 that “scientific evidence remains inconclusive as to whether human activities affect global climate”.

This story is published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of news outlets strengthening coverage of the climate story

Contributor

Chris McGreal

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Exxon CEO accused of lying about climate science to congressional panel
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney likens oil company bosses’ responses to those of tobacco industry at historic hearing

Chris McGreal

28, Oct, 2021 @9:05 PM

Article image
Oil executives face ‘turning point’ US congressional hearing on climate crisis
The heads of top US oil companies will answer accusations that their firms have spent years lying about the climate crisis

Chris McGreal

28, Oct, 2021 @7:00 AM

Article image
How cities and states could finally hold fossil fuel companies accountable
These lawsuits may force fossil fuel companies to reveal what they lied about

Chris McGrealand Alvin Chang

30, Jun, 2021 @7:01 AM

Article image
'Greenwashing': fossil fuel execs to hold invite-only forum at UN climate summit
BP, Shell and Chevron representatives will be at event on sidelines of UN climate summit

Sandra Laville

18, Sep, 2019 @6:01 AM

Article image
Big oil’s ‘wokewashing’ is the new climate science denialism
Academic researchers say the fossil fuel industry has a new tool to delay efforts to curb emissions – a social justice strategy

Amy Westervelt

09, Sep, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Philippines investigates Shell and Exxon over climate change
A legal case will consider if the emissions of 50 fossil fuel companies violate the human rights of those hit by extreme weather

Emma Howard in Manila

07, May, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
Exxon, BP and Shell back carbon tax proposal to curb emissions
Oil giants call for ‘consensus climate solution’ and support proposal devised by rightwing Climate Leadership Council

Oliver Milman

20, Jun, 2017 @4:32 PM

Article image
In court, Big Oil rejected climate denial | Dana Nuccitelli
Dana Nuccitelli: If even oil companies accept human-caused global warming, why doesn’t everybody?

Dana Nuccitelli

23, Mar, 2018 @10:00 AM

Article image
BP and Shell warned to halt campaign against US climate change bill
Oil firms urged to leave American Petroleum Institute and halt political lobbying by Greenpeace

Terry Macalister

19, Aug, 2009 @7:29 PM

Article image
Oil giants must cut output by a third to meet climate target – study
Seven largest companies must make 35% cut by 2040 to limit climate crisis and meet 1.5C goal, says thinktank

Jillian Ambrose

01, Nov, 2019 @1:02 PM