Congress calls BS on Big Oil’s climate pledges
At yesterday’s House Oversight hearing, expert witnesses unraveled oil giants’ misleading commitments to address the crisis they continue to cause.
Emily Sanders is the Center for Climate Integrity’s editorial lead. Catch up with her on Twitter here.
It may have been the second Big Oil hearing, but yesterday marked an exciting first for us: the first time EXXONKNEWS made it into the Congressional record! 🥴🥳
Special thank you to Tracey Lewis from Public Citizen, who cited last week’s report during her opening testimony.
Back to the matter at hand: Exxon, Chevron, Shell and BP’s board members declined invitations to testify before the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee yesterday and answer to the American public about their companies’ (phony) climate pledges. Instead, expert witnesses thoroughly debunked the companies’ pledges as nothing more than a dangerous PR stunt that allows the industry to keep polluting while dressing up as a partner in climate solutions.
At the committee’s last hearing, in October, the executives of the oil industry giants refused to stop funding lies and lobbying against action to address the climate crisis. Tuesday’s hearing, part of the committee’s ongoing investigation, dug into one of the most prominent tools of Big Oil’s present-day deception efforts: their “net-zero emissions” pledges.
“The message is clear: Big Oil intends to continue its playbook from the last four decades, fighting meaningful action to prevent climate change while engaging in a PR campaign to deceive the public,” Chair Carolyn Maloney said in her opening remarks. “This committee will not stand for it – we launched this investigation to get to the bottom of Big Oil’s role in contributing to climate change and we will get to the bottom of these pledges.”
Three witnesses for the majority — Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University; Follow This founder Mark Van Baal; and EXXONKNEWS reader Lewis, who is policy counsel at Public Citizen — were called in to speak to whether the oil giant’s commitments actually line up with the goals of the Paris Agreement, which seek to keep warming temperatures below a threshold at which climate damages will become irreversible.
As the witnesses explained, the fossil fuel companies’ current pledges would reduce too little of their climate emissions, too late.
In some cases, as we described last week, Chevron and Exxon’s plans allow them to pollute even more, under the guise that they are polluting each barrel of oil “more efficiently.”
“If you were to believe the advertisements of Big Oil and what their executives told you last October, you would think they were taking adequate action to address the crisis. In reality, they are not,” said Van Baal. “On the contrary, they are still exacerbating the climate crisis by increasing their CO2 emissions. These companies intend to grow emissions up to 2030.”
Mann said the companies’ reliance on emissions intensity metrics was “sort of like your doctor telling you that you need to cut fat from your diet and so you switch to 40% reduced fat potato chips, but you eat twice as many of them.”
As Mann also noted, Exxon and Chevron’s plans don’t cover Scope 3 emissions — that is, the emissions that come from consumers using their products as intended. "It's like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It is not addressing the gorilla in the room. Ninety percent of the carbon emissions are from Scope 3," he said.
Committee members emphasized the consequences of Big Oil’s delay tactics for vulnerable communities.
Several representatives described the local consequences of Big Oil’s false promises and ongoing deception — especially for communities of color in their districts, who are hit first and worst by climate-driven rising seas, hurricanes, flooding, extreme heat, wildfires, pollution and more.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley also reminded us of the many untested and risky technologies the fossil fuel industry claims it can rely on to reach net-zero, citing the disastrous carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) pipeline explosion in a small Mississippi town that forced hundreds of residents to flee their homes, and landed nearly 50 people in the hospital.
“Fossil fuel companies like to point to carbon capture and sequestration as a way to offset their greenhouse gas emissions while allowing them to continue producing their toxic product at the same level,” Rep. Pressley said. “But there is little evidence that the technology actually works.”
Big Oil’s defenders spouted flat-out climate denial.
Much like they did in the first hearing, Big Oil’s supporters on the committee consistently denied the severity of the climate crisis and deflected from the industry’s lies, genuflecting to the mantle of fossil fuels and “energy freedom” in the United States.
Funny – as others have pointed out, Big Oil’s decades of deception and lobbying to influence climate policy have ensured the exact opposite of energy freedom, giving consumers no real choice but to rely on dangerous fossil fuel products.
Perhaps that’s not surprising, since, as Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi made clear, the single minority witness chosen to speak up for poor Big Oil — Katie Tubb, senior policy analyst for the oil-funded Heritage Foundation — is an out-and-out climate denier with no scientific credentials.
From Congress to the courts, the walls of accountability are closing in.
Rep. Maloney confirmed that the committee is calling on the Big Oil board members to testify at a March 8 hearing to discuss the pledges their companies have made, saying that the committee will use “every tool at its disposal” to get those companies to come clean. That could mean forcing them to show up using subpoena power, just as they did for the CEOs last go-around.
“The American public, and all generations to come, deserve accountability,” Maloney said.
As the hearing was wrapping up, what was already a bad day for Big Oil became even worse: a federal appeals court issued an important win in a climate accountability lawsuit filed by several Colorado communities — some of whom, as we reported last month, are fighting ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy in court while recovering from destructive wildfires. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that the lawsuit can proceed in state court, where it was filed, and where the fossil fuel companies are scared of facing a jury. Six other appeals courts are considering similar arguments from oil companies hoping to escape accountability — but thankfully, so far, judges keep refusing to let them off the hook.
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