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But really: Did Big Oil lie under oath?
5 whoppers from the #SlipperySix hearing
This week’s edition is written by the Center for Climate Integrity’s Digital Manager, Abbey Dufoe, with research assistance and graphic design from Digital Associate Tess Abbot. You can catch up with Abbey on Twitter here.
Big Oil is no stranger to lying (see, well, this entire newsletter). But under oath? Now that’s fairly new.
Ever since some of the fossil fuel industry’s most egregious liars — ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP America, the American Petroleum Institute, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — Zoom-ed in front of the House Oversight committee on October 28 and swore to tell the truth at a six-hour hearing about climate disinformation, we’ve been combing through their statements and putting them under a microscope.
If you missed the hearing, here’s our initial roundup of the highlights. Now, we’re returning to the scene of potential perjury to take a closer look at the lies, half-truths, and misleading statements that were uttered in front of the House Oversight Committee.
When tobacco executives appeared in front of Congress in 1994 to answer questions about the dangers of smoking, it wasn’t immediately clear that they weren’t telling the truth. Months later, it became apparent that they lied under oath.
Today, we’re here to fact check five of Big Oil’s most slippery statements from the hearing.
1. The One Where Exxon Lies About Lying
During his round of questioning, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) asked ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods about his company’s twisted use of the First Amendment to defend its consumer fraud in court.
RASKIN: Using your common sense, do you think that a company has the right to lie, for example, about climate change, and then use the First Amendment as a camouflage and a shield against litigation?
WOODS: I don't believe companies should lie and I would tell you that we do not do that.
Now, maybe a little bell, or a bullhorn, went off in your head when you read that, because lying is… kind of Exxon’s thing. The company lied for years about what they knew about their product’s role in climate change, and their own scientists admitted as much before Congress. It’s why they’re being sued by 26 states and municipalities. To this day, Exxon is still sowing doubt about their role in creating the climate crisis through use of misleading rhetoric, as shown by two peer-reviewed studies by Harvard researchers Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes in 2017 and 2021. Hell, their own lobbyist was caught on tape admitting to their deception!
Something tells us that Woods may regret insisting, under oath, that “we do not [lie].”
2. The One Where Chevron Lies About Disinformation
Like Woods, Chevron CEO Michael Wirth was forceful in denying the evidence that his company deceived the public about climate change:
WIRTH: "While our views on climate change have developed overtime, any suggestion that Chevron is engaged in an effort to spread disinformation and mislead the public on these complex issues is simply wrong."
It’s well documented that Chevron, ahem, “engaged in an effort to spread disinformation and mislead the public” on climate change for decades.
In 1980, a representative from Texaco (now Chevron) participated in an industry task force on CO2 and Climate, and attended a meeting (with the American Petroleum Institute) that discussed an industry report predicting global warming from fossil fuel use would lead to “globally catastrophic effects.”
In 1991, Chevron subsidiary Pittsburg and Midway Coal Mining became a member of the Information Council for the Environment (ICE), a communications front group formed by coal companies whose plan was to “reposition global warming as theory (not fact).”
Then, in 1998, Chevron helped develop the infamous “Victory Memo”, which sought to sow confusion about climate science among the media and the public, declaring, not so subtly, that “victory would be achieved” when anyone who opposed the Kyoto Protocol was seen as “out of touch with reality.”
They knew, and they lied.
Even now, Chevron continues to disingenuously promote natural gas as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even though the use of natural gas poses a similarly significant threat to the climate.
This looks like a pattern of disinformation and misleading information to us, no?
3. The One Where API Just Flat Out Lies
In his opening remarks, Mike Sommers, President of the American Petroleum Institute, really tested our sanity.
SOMMERS: In closing, API supports climate action.
Simply: this is not true.
API has decades of early knowledge of climate change and coordinated efforts to discredit climate science and stop climate action. In 1998, API prepared a multimillion dollar communications plan for the oil and gas industry, colloquially known as the “Victory Memo” (see Chevron’s disinformation above), with a goal to sow uncertainties about climate science among the public and “those (e.g., Congress) who chart the future U.S. course on global climate change.”
The “Victory Memo” states: “Unless ‘climate change’ becomes a non-issue, meaning that the Kyoto proposal is defeated and there are no further initiatives to thwart the threat of climate change, there may be no moment when we can declare victory for our efforts.”
According to Sommers himself, "We're using every tool at our disposal to work against these proposals.” During the Obama administration, API ran ads, organized rallies, and spent millions lobbying to successfully block climate legislation.
Now, does that sound like a trade group that “supports climate action”?
4. The One Where Chevron Lies… Again
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) asked each of the executives about the subsidies their industry receives. Chevron’s Wirth couldn’t help himself:
COOPER: So can the four key oil executives agree on the amount by which they are subsidized, at least in the United States, by the U.S. taxpayer? Is it $20 billion, or is it $650 billion? Crickets. None of you have any idea how much you're being subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer?
WIRTH: Congressman, our products are taxed, not subsidized. And I can tell you that a number of the policies that get described as subsidies are very similar to those available to other industries and other companies, and they're important for American energy security, American energy investments, and American energy supply.
The fossil fuel industry receives $20 billion per year between direct subsidies and tax breaks, which Wirth could have known had he done some quick Googling before the hearing. And to be clear, just because other industries receive the same cushy tax breaks and subsidies, doesn’t mean they aren’t cushy tax breaks and subsidies. The $650 billion number is more of a global estimate. Either way… Chevron is hella confused about what is a tax and what is a subsidy.
They should probably know the difference by now, considering the growing calls for the U.S. government to end fossil fuel subsidies — including those from the House Oversight Committee, which cite ending industry subsidies as an “essential step in achieving environmental justice in the United States.” Fossil fuel subsidies are still included in the reconciliation bill, too.
Maybe Chevron is hoping we won't eliminate subsidies if we don't know they’re there?
5. The One Where Shell Is Misleading
Shell President Gretchen Watkins, tooting her company’s “climate commitment” horn, made the following statement:
WATKINS: Shell has a long history of advocating for carbon pricing such as Waxman-Markey, which passed the House in 2009.
The 2009 Waxman-Markey Act would have been a historic price on carbon — until it was killed when API went on its advertising spree against the bill during Obama’s first term. The bill passed the House, but not the Senate.
And guess who is a member of API, the largest oil and gas trade association? That’s right: Shell Oil. Why would Shell fund a group that lobbies against its claimed positions? Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) asked Watkins:
WATKINS: There are several places where we are not fully aligned with the API. We've been very transparent about those ..
KHANNA: Would you -- you won't tell them to stop?
WIRTH: Members agree -- don't always agree on everything.
KHANNA: Would you commit to saying you're not going to fund any group that's going to engage in climate disinformation at least?
WATKINS: Chairman Khanna, what I'll commit to is continuing to be an active member of the API and we discuss many issues in the API, some of which have to do with climate policy.
So, can you really be a prominent member of the group hired to kill the bill in 2009, and yet claim to have supported the same bill? Great question…
For an answer, let’s go to our favorite (former) Exxon lobbyist Keith McCoy, who explained that trade associations like API play a helpful role as the industry “whipping boy” — taking unpopular positions so their members can look like the good guys.
As Emily wrote in her hearing coverage, the Slippery Six have made it very clear that nothing will get them to take this crisis seriously. Now they’re facing subpoenas and a possibly long, drawn out congressional investigation. But as E&E’s Corbin Hair warned before the hearing, it can be “difficult to immediately know which moments in an hours-long hearing will matter in the long run.” As the committee unearths more evidence about the Slippery Six’s deception, perhaps one of these moments will come back and bite them.