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‘They knew. They lied.’ California congressman on Big Oil’s role in climate change

·Anchor/Reporter
·4 min read
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Top executives from six major oil firms and trade groups will testify before the House Oversight Committee Thursday, about the industry’s role in spreading disinformation on the impact fossil fuels have on climate change.

Congressman Ro Khanna (D, Calif.), who chairs the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment, said the CEOs of Exxon Mobil (XOM), Chevron (CVX), BP, and Royal Dutch Shell, along with trade groups American Petroleum Institute (API) and the United States Chamber of Commerce will all be forced to respond under oath, to questions that have clouded the industry for years.

“They knew. They lied. They continued to deceive,” Khanna said. “We will have scores of evidence that these big oil companies misrepresented to the American public the threat of climate change.”

The hearing represents a landmark moment, in an investigation Khanna has been spearheading for months. The congressman has alleged the industry led a coordinated, multibillion-dollar effort to play down the impact of fossil fuels on climate change for decades, slowing action necessary to cap global temperatures to stave off the worst of the climate crisis.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 20: Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney speaks at Go Bigger on Climate, Care, and Justice! on July 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Shannon Finney/Getty Images for Green New Deal Network)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 20: Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney speaks at Go Bigger on Climate, Care, and Justice! on July 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Shannon Finney/Getty Images for Green New Deal Network)

In a letter sent to executives last month, Khanna and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D, NY), chairwoman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, accused oil majors of reaping "massive profits for decades while contributing to climate change that is devastating American communities."

“The fossil fuel industry has worked to prevent serious action on global warming by generating doubt about the documented dangers of fossil fuels and misrepresenting the scale of your efforts to develop alternative energy technologies,” the chairs wrote, likening the actions of oil companies to those of the tobacco industry, which downplayed the harmful effects of its products on Americans for years.

An API spokesperson said the organization “looks forward to testifying before the House Oversight Committee and advancing our priorities of pricing carbon, regulating methane and reliably producing American energy.”

Exxon Mobil spokesman Casey Norton said the company has cooperated with committee staff for months, adding that the oil giant "advocates for responsible climate-related policies."

“Our public statements about climate change are, and have been, truthful, fact-based, transparent, and consistent with the views of the broader, mainstream scientific community at the time. ExxonMobil has contributed to the development of climate science for decades and has made its work publicly available. And as the scientific community’s understanding of climate change developed, ExxonMobil responded accordingly,” he said, in an email to Yahoo Finance.

The ExxonMobil Esso Oil refinery is pictured in Fawley, near Southampton, southern England on October 4, 2021. - The British military started delivering fuel to petrol stations on Monday, after a tanker driver shortage sparked two weeks of panic-buying by motorists and emptied pumps. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
The ExxonMobil Esso Oil refinery is pictured in Fawley, near Southampton, southern England on October 4, 2021. - The British military started delivering fuel to petrol stations on Monday, after a tanker driver shortage sparked two weeks of panic-buying by motorists and emptied pumps. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

“This is the first time that these big oil executives are going to be testifying under oath even in the litigation that hasn't happened yet. And so we have a lot of questions,” Khanna said. “Do they acknowledge the misrepresentations? What are they doing to prevent third parties from spreading misinformation? What are their plans to actually tackle the climate crisis? What are their own scientists telling them about the climate crisis? What are the documents that they rely on to make their determinations on climate? All of these things need to come out and they need to be answering these questions under oath.”

The showdown in Washington comes as the world grapples with the impacts of climate change, in a year battered by extreme weather events. A report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this summer, offered a sobering assessment of the next three decades, placing the blame for warming temperatures squarely on human activity.

The burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation, accounts for the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity globally.

World leaders and business executives will gather in Scotland for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) this weekend, to lay out an action plan that limits global warming to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius. But studies suggest that Big Oil firms are far from reaching that goal. Recent findings by the MSCI estimate the energy sector’s investment plans and emissions reductions targets put the industry on path for a temperature rise of 6.5 degrees Celsius, far from the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The executives are expected to tout their support for carbon pricing and their investments in carbon capture technology in the hearing, as proof the industry is serious about reducing its carbon footprint.

But Khanna said the panel has evidence from "many, many researchers" that counter that narrative.

“They cast doubt and uncertainty, even though they had scientists in their own company telling them that climate change, the climate crisis was going to be catastrophic,” Khanna said. “They continue to engage in a pattern of deception.”

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita

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