Oil executives face Congress on climate disinformation

The executives of some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies – Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Shell – are due to appear before a co...


The executives of some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies – Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Shell – are due to appear before a congressional committee on Thursday to respond to accusations that the industry has spent millions of dollars to campaign decades of disinformation to throw away. doubting the science of climate change and derailing action to reduce emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels.

The hearings mark the first time that oil executives will be pressed to answer under oath to questions about whether their companies have misled the public about the reality of climate change by obscuring the scientific consensus: that combustion of fossil fuels increases the Earth’s temperature and sea level with devastating consequences around the world, including intensifying storms, worsening droughts and deadlier forest fires.

House Democrats compare the investigation with the historic tobacco hearings of the 90s, which highlighted how tobacco companies lied about the health dangers of smoking, paving the way for tough nicotine regulations. Climate scientists are now as certain that burning fossil fuels causes global warming as public health experts are convinced that smoking tobacco causes cancer.

Evidence showing that fossil fuel companies have distorted and downplayed the realities of climate change is well documented by academic researchers.

“For the first time in American history, Big Oil is going to have to answer the American public for its climate misinformation,” said Ro Khanna, the Democratic representative from California who led the effort to bring the leaders to Congress.

It’s not at all clear Thursday’s hearing will have the explosive fallout from the tobacco inquiry, in which seven leaders stood with their hands raised to take an oath before telling Congress they didn’t think that cigarettes are addictive. The photos of the moment made headlines across the country.

Oil company executives are allowed to watch Thursday’s events remotely via video, reducing the possibility of an equally vivid visual moment. And much of the effectiveness of the hearing will depend on coordination among the members, who each have limited time to review the leaders, a format that can hamper a cohesive line of questioning.

Some Republican leaders have denounced the hearing as a distraction and plan to use it to voice concerns about the Biden administration’s climate change agenda, which they say is hurting the economy. They plan to call a former Keystone XL pipeline worker who has lost his job as a witness when President Biden canceled the project on his first day in office.

“This is another Democrat publicity stunt,” said Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the senior Republican on the oversight committee. “It is a terrible time to move away from fossil fuels as the economy tries to recover from a pandemic.”

Oil companies have denied lying to the public about climate change and said the industry is now taking bold action to limit emissions. “Meeting the demand for reliable energy – while simultaneously tackling climate change – is a huge undertaking and one of the defining challenges of our time,” Gretchen Watkins, president of Shell Oil, told lawmakers, according to a overview of his remarks provided by the company.

A spokesperson for the company said it had provided thousands of pages of documents to the committee. BP and Exxon have said they are also cooperating.

Casey Norton, spokesperson for Exxon Mobil, said in a statement that the company “has long recognized that climate change is real and poses serious risks.” He said the company’s statements on climate science were “truthful, evidence-based, transparent and consistent with the mainstream scientific community at the time” and “evolved” as science did.

Until 2000, Exxon Mobil advertised in the New York Times that “scientists have not been able to confirm” that the burning of oil, gas and coal caused climate change. A decade before that, United Nations scientists have confirmed the planet had warmed by 0.5 degrees Celsius during the previous century due to greenhouse gases generated by fossil fuels.

The American Petroleum Institute and the United States Chamber of Commerce have said in statements that they look forward to sharing their views in support of climate change policies. A Chevron representative did not respond to requests for comment.

The hearing takes place a few days before the United Nations conference on global warming begins in Glasgow, seen as a pivotal moment in efforts to address the threat of climate change. President Biden is expected to arrive at the talks after having re-engaged the United States in global climate negotiations and also decided to reinstate some of the climate regulations removed by the Trump administration. But in the face of dissidents within his own party, as well as continued industry lobbying, he has seen important parts of its climate agenda disappear.

The congressional scrutiny also comes as environmentalists, cities, states and even some shareholders in energy companies themselves step up pressure on the fossil fuel industry. to respond to its central role in the climate crisis. The world’s leading energy organization, the International Energy Agency, said this year that nations need to immediately stop approving new oil and gas fields and move quickly to renewable forms of energy like wind and solar if they are to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

The hearings come more than four decades after the oil industry began collecting scientific evidence on global warming.

In 1978, Exxon Mobil embarked on a major project to study climate change, equipping one of its giant tankers with instruments to monitor rising levels of carbon dioxide in the sea and the atmosphere. . But as oil prices plummeted in the 1980s, hurting profits, Exxon shut down the research.

“The evidence that had been gathered in the late 1970s and early 1980s was already unequivocal,” said Edward A. Garvey, a geochemist who worked on Exxon’s early climate research during those years. . “We had an important window, but we wasted the opportunity,” he said.

Oil executives themselves have publicly stated that there is no conclusive evidence that human activities have a significant effect on the global climate, although scientists have warned that this evidence is unequivocal. In one prominent example, Lee Raymond, CEO of Exxon at the time, said in 1997 that “Currently, scientific evidence does not indicate whether human activities are having a significant effect on the global climate.”

Questions should also focus on how companies have worked with groups like the American Petroleum Institute and the United States Chamber of Commerce to put pressure on the United States government against strong action on the climate. The oil industry and the trade groups that represent them, for example, have called the world’s first treaty on climate change, the Kyoto Protocol, unrealistic and dangerous for the US economy. In 2001, former President George W. Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol.

The heads of the American Petroleum Institute and the Chamber of Commerce are also scheduled to appear before the committee on Thursday.

“This is an industry with a long documented history of misrepresenting the facts of climate change and the facts about their own businesses,” said Naomi Oreskes, professor of history of science at Harvard. “At this point, the onus is on them to prove that they have changed. “

The hearing, which marks the start of a larger investigation, is also expected to consider more recent efforts to block meaningful climate policy and legislation. The fossil fuel industry has opposed various climate policies, including a behind-the-scenes effort to lower vehicle emissions standards adopted by the Obama administration.

Carolyn B. Maloney, the committee chair, said she hoped the hearing would be “a turning point for increased regulation of the fossil fuel industry” and galvanize climate action in Congress.

The catalyst for the House hearings this year was an undercover operation by the militant group Greenpeace. The filmed group an Exxon lobbyist who said the company fought climate science through “ghost groups” and targeted influential senators in an attempt to weaken President Biden’s climate proposals.

Several of those senators later said the lobbyist either exaggerated their relationship or had no relationship with him. Soon after, Mr. Khanna called on industry executives to testify before Congress.

The officers to testify are Darren Woods of Exxon, Michael Wirth of Chevron, David Lawler of BP, Ms. Watkins of Shell, Mike Sommers of the American Petroleum Institute and Suzanne Clark of the American Chamber of Commerce.

Henry Waxman, who led the tobacco hearings of the 1990s, said oil and gas executives would likely be smarter than tobacco chiefs, whose categorical denial that cigarettes are addictive revealed a wide gap between their statements and scientific evidence.

“I expect oil company executives to have learned from the tobacco hearings, and they will say how concerned they are now about climate change,” he said. But the House committee had to be prepared to investigate further, he said. Still, “it’s hard not to think that they are still pursuing a deceptive public relations effort.”

All major oil and gas companies have publicly supported the paris agreement, the agreement between nations to fight climate change. BP and Shell have also made “net zero” commitments – eliminating as much carbon pollution as they emit into the atmosphere – for their operations. But the four companies continue to invest heavily in the extraction of fossil fuels; renewable energy projects represent a fraction of their capital investments.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Oil executives face Congress on climate disinformation
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