Exxon CEO denies spreading disinformation on climate change

Updated: 12:04 p.m.

ExxonMobil’s chief executive said Thursday that his company “does not spread disinformation regarding climate change″ as he and other oil company chiefs countered congressional allegations the industry concealed evidence about the dangers of it.

Testifying at a landmark House hearing, CEO Darren Woods said ExxonMobil “has long acknowledged the reality and risks of climate change, and it has devoted significant resources to addressing those risks.″

The oil giant’s public statements on climate “are and have always been truthful, fact-based ... and consistent” with mainstream climate science, Woods said.

Woods was among top officials at four major oil companies testifying Thursday as congressional Democrats investigate what they describe as a decades-long, industry-wide campaign to spread disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming.

The much-anticipated hearing before the House Oversight Committee comes after months of public efforts by Democrats to obtain documents and other information on the oil industry’s role in stopping climate action over multiple decades. The appearance of the four oil executives — from ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP America and Shell — has drawn comparisons to a high-profile hearing in the 1990s with tobacco executives who famously testified that they didn’t believe nicotine was addictive.

"The fossil fuel industry has had scientific evidence about the dangers of climate change since at least 1977. Yet for decades, the industry spread denial and doubt about the harm of its products — undermining the science and preventing meaningful action on climate change even as the global climate crisis became increasingly dire,'' said Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Ro Khanna, D-Calif.

“For far too long, Big Oil has escaped accountability for its central role in bringing our planet to the brink of a climate catastrophe. That ends today,” said Maloney, who chairs the Oversight panel.

“This hearing is just the start of our investigation," added Khanna, who leads a subcommittee on the environment. “These companies must be held accountable.”

The committee released a memo Thursday charging that the oil industry’s public support for climate reforms has not been matched by meaningful actions, and that the industry has spent billions of dollars to block reforms. Oil companies frequently boast about their efforts to produce clean energy in advertisements and social media posts accompanied by sleek videos or pictures of wind turbines.

“Today’s staff memo shows Big Oil’s campaign to ‘greenwash’ their role in the climate crisis in action,” Maloney said. “These oil companies pay lip service to climate reforms, but behind the scenes they spend far more time lobbying to preserve their lucrative tax breaks.''

Maloney and other Democrats have focused particular ire on Exxon, after a senior lobbyist for the company was caught in a secret video bragging that Exxon had fought climate science through “shadow groups” and had targeted influential senators in an effort to weaken President Joe Biden’s climate agenda, including a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a sweeping climate and social policy bill currently moving through Congress.

Keith McCoy, a former Washington-based lobbyist for Exxon, dismissed the company's public expressions of support for a proposed carbon tax on fossil fuel emissions as a “talking point.”

McCoy’s comments were made public in June by the environmental group Greenpeace UK, which secretly recorded him and another lobbyist in Zoom interviews. McCoy no longer works for the company, an Exxon spokesperson said last month.

Woods, Exxon’s chairman and chief executive, has condemned McCoy’s statements and said the company stands by its commitment to work on finding solutions to climate change.

Testifying along with Woods were Chevron CEO Michael Wirth, BP America CEO David Lawler and Shell president Gretchen Watkins.

"Any suggestion that Chevron has engaged in an effort to spread disinformation and mislead the public on these complex issues is simply wrong,'' Wirth said.

Maloney and Khanna sharply disputed that. They compared tactics used by the oil industry to those long deployed by the tobacco industry to resist regulation “while selling products that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans.″

“Spare us the spin,'' Khanna advised the oil executives. “Spin doesn't work under oath.''

Kentucky Rep. James Comer, the top Republican on the Oversight panel, called the hearing a "distraction from the crises that the Biden administration’s policies have caused for the American people,'' including higher gasoline prices.

“The purpose of this hearing is clear: to deliver partisan theater for primetime news,'' Comer said.

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