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Explosive new documents show Big Oil executives are gaslighting us
A congressional investigation sheds more light on how the fossil fuel industry is lying about its climate commitments.
Emily Sanders is the Center for Climate Integrity’s editorial lead. Catch up with her on Twitter here.
“Nothing to do with our business plans” — that’s how one internal email from an employee at oil giant Shell described the company’s publicized “net-zero” scenario involving an ambitious pathway to reduce emissions.
Another email from an executive at Shell, discussing a poll the company posted to Twitter that asked members of the public what they would be willing to do to reduce emissions, reads, “We are, after all, in a tweet like this implying others need to sacrifice without focusing on ourselves,” and acknowledges that could legitimately be viewed as “gaslighting.”
These are just two in a trove of new internal oil and gas company documents, publicly released last night, that reveal what Big Oil companies actually say about their business operations when they’re behind closed doors.
Obtained by the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee as part of an ongoing investigation into Big Oil’s climate disinformation campaigns, the documents landed during a week that featured three separate congressional hearings about the fossil fuel industry’s villainous behavior.
Here’s what you should know:
The new bombshell documents reveal conspiracies by industry executives to mislead the public about their companies’ commitments to reducing emissions and tackling the climate crisis.
BP, Chevron, Exxon, and Shell worked to project an appearance that their companies were transitioning toward clean energy sources while in reality they had no plans to do so, according to the committee’s findings. Even while the companies made public commitments to net-zero emissions and purported to align themselves with Paris Agreement goals, their internal communications reveal they had no such intentions.
“Contrary to what their pledges imply, fossil fuel companies have not organized their businesses around becoming low-emissions, renewable energy companies. They are devoted to a long-term fossil fuel future,” explains a memo accompanying yesterday’s epic document dump.
In talking points provided to an executive and obtained by the committee through subpoenas, megapolluter Chevron, which publicly claims to support a “just transition,” internally states that “[o]il and gas” are the “lower carbon solutions that ensur[e] a just transition.”
Other documents reveal that Exxon and Chevron pressured an industry group, the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, to “remove language that potentially commits members to enhanced climate- related governance, strategy, risk management, and performance metrics and targets” and to exclude “explicit commitment for OGCI companies to align their advocacy with their climate related positions,” including the Paris Agreement.
Executives at BP, the company that pioneered calculating your “personal carbon footprint” and rebranded itself as a climate-concerned “human energy company,” even joked in emails about the deadly, record-setting heat waves its fossil fuel products helped cause.
Documents also exposed oil giants’ concern that their lies would open them up to legal liability amid a growing number of climate lawsuits. Shell told employees to “watch what we are saying” so as not to “expose” the company to “further claims — from greenwashing to misleading investors.”
The House Oversight Committee released its findings before this morning’s hearing into the company’s record breaking profits and “misleading” climate pledges.
The hearing featured first-hand testimony from survivors of climate disasters, from deadly flooding in Kentucky to devastating hurricanes in Louisiana and New York.
Raya Salter, one of the committee’s witnesses and Founder and Executive Director of the Energy Justice Law and Policy Center, said the climate crisis “is an unprecedented global crime, and the smoking gun lies in the hands of Big Oil and Gas.”
In an initial hearing last October, executives from Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP, and the American Petroleum Institute refused to commit under oath that their companies would stop spending money to oppose efforts to reduce emissions and combat climate change. After failing to comply with requests for documents, the companies were subpoenaed by the committee, producing the files released yesterday.
Board members of the four companies were invited by the committee to testify, but they declined to appear.
Two other congressional committees held hearings yesterday to blow the whistle on the fossil fuel industry’s other nefarious tactics.
Led by Committee Chair Katie Porter, the House Natural Resources Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee yesterday held a hearing into the role of PR companies in marketing and advertising climate disinformation and greenwash on behalf of fossil fuel clients.
The committee produced a report, “The Role of Public Relations Firms in Preventing Actions on Climate Change,” laying out the firms’ deceitful tactics — including documents that “show in raw, clinical detail how the firms evaluate whether they were successful in helping oil and gas companies avoid having to take real action on the climate crisis, or stop others from doing so.”
During the hearing, Republican members and their witness argued that, by condemning fossil fuel companies’ fraud, the committee was encroaching on Big Oil’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Funny enough: in a simultaneous hearing led by Rep. Jamie Raskin, the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties was examining the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to suppress the actual free speech of individuals, with a focus on the industry’s use of SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) lawsuits and illegal intimidation to target protestors.
A report published this week from EarthRights International, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization, identified 152 cases within the past ten years during which the fossil fuel industry leveraged SLAPP lawsuits and judicial harassment tactics to “silence or punish its critics in the United States.”
The fight to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for its role in the climate crisis has reached a pivotal moment.
In her opening statement, Chair Carolyn Maloney said that the Oversight Committee is still waiting for more documents it has requested from the oil giants and “will work hard to get those documents.”
“I want to be clear that our investigation goes on,” she said, “and we will not stop until the American people get the truth about the fossil fuel industry’s role in our climate crisis.”
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