Major US oil companies face grilling by Congress

Major US oil companies face grilling by Congress

PEJOURNAL – Top oil executives have appeared before US lawmakers to face allegations they misled the public about climate change.

Major producers were quizzed about the impact of the fossil fuels they profit from and their environmental toll.

The hearing on Thursday, which Democrats hailed as historic, marked the first time oil bosses had answered questions publicly and under oath.

The six-hour session saw some heated exchanges, with firms such as BP and Shell facing tough questions.

“Some of us actually have to live the future that you are all setting on fire for us,” Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said.

But the executives of Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Shell repeatedly spoke about their efforts to transition to clean energy and denied misleading the public.

The session, which saw decades of lobbying and public statements by America’s biggest energy firms put under the spotlight, came just days before the start of the UN’s COP26 climate conference.

President Joe Biden is set to fly to Glasgow for the meeting of world leaders, which is being seen as a crucial moment in the global fight against climate change.

The hearing in House of Representatives Oversight Committee hearing was part of a broad probe that Democrats said would last a year.

“For far too long, Big Oil has escaped accountability for its central role in bringing our planet to the brink of a climate catastrophe,” committee chairwoman Carolyn B Maloney said during her introduction.

Questioning Exxon’s CEO, she said there had been a “clear conflict” between what past executives had said publicly versus the the effects of the company’s activities on the climate.

Ms Maloney also condemned the companies for failing to provide internal documents that the committee had requested ahead of the hearings.

The committee had been seeking records relating to “payments to shadow groups,” public relations firms and other firms, as well as records of communications from senior executives discussing their companies’ role in the climate crisis.

Ms Maloney told the executives that she intends to issue subpoenas to force them to hand over the documents.

“I have tried very hard to obtain this information voluntarily, but the oil companies employ the same tactics they used for decades on climate policy: delay and obstruction,” she said.

Throughout proceedings, Democrats were keen to draw parallels between their climate disinformation probe and the House’s Big Tobacco investigation in the 1990s, which, after months of testimony, concluded that cigarette companies tried to conceal evidence that their products were addictive and harmful.

A statement issued by the committee on Wednesday said the industry had known about the effects of global warming since 1977 but “for decades spread denial and doubt about the harm of its products”.

American Petroleum Institute President Mike Sommers
Mike Sommers from the American Petroleum Institute group was among the major figures to appear

Michael Wirth, from Chevron, denied his firm had knowingly lied to the public.

“While our views on climate change have developed over time, any suggestion that Chevron is engaged in an effort to spread disinformation and mislead the public on these complex issues is simply wrong,” he said.

Darren Woods, chief executive of Exxon, said his company had long recognised climate change was real but said there were “no easy answers” and insisted “oil and gas will continue to be necessary for the foreseeable future”.

None of the executives present agreed to a request from Democratic Representative Ro Khanna to conduct independent audits to establish whether their companies were contributing to groups that promote climate disinformation and denial.

Republicans were resounding in their criticism of the questioning directed by their Democratic counterparts.

Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said the country’s future was being “set on fire” by oil firms

Arizona Republican Andy Biggs told the CEOs they had been “brought here so they can beat the crap out of you”.

Representative James Comer said the hearing was intended “to deliver partisan theatre for primetime news” and said the committee should instead be focusing on the “pressing concerns of American citizens”.

Republicans called Neal Crabtree, a welder who lost his job after the cancellation of a major oil pipeline by Mr Biden, to testify about his family’s struggles to make ends meet.

Ms Maloney, the panel’s chair, said at the close of Thursday’s hearing that the investigation must continue.

“I intend to issues subpoenas to the fossil fuel industry representatives here today,” she said, adding: “We are at code red for climate and I am committed to doing everything I can to help rescue this planet and save it for our children.”