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Exxon’s new lobbying report is full of disinformation
We took a closer look at the report and found some serious hocus pocus.
Emily Sanders is the Center for Climate Integrity’s editorial lead. Catch up with her on Twitter here.
“A benchmark for other companies to try to emulate.” “A big step forward.” “A lot of sunlight.” This was just some of the dazzling praise one shareholder doled out to ExxonMobil after the megapolluter released a report last month divulging its lobbying activities and political expenditures for the year 2020.
This was Exxon’s first public lobbying disclosure report, arriving after mounting pressure and a shareholder resolution demanding that Exxon be more transparent about its political spending. It almost seemed like the company was finally being forced to do the right thing.
In reality, Exxon took the opportunity to do what it does best: lie and deceive. A closer look at the report reveals more disinformation and greenwashing, neatly packaged in the language of corporate social responsibility.
If shareholders really do want Exxon to improve, they need to hold the company accountable as it continues to fuel the fire — not heap empty praise on the same old misleading language. Here’s what we found:
Exxon says it advocated for the goals of the Paris Agreement, yet lies about its blatant defiance of those goals.
The report claims that Exxon has “supported the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate since its inception, and has consistently voiced support for U.S. participation in the agreement,” claiming the company has “actively engaged with government officials to encourage remaining in the Paris Agreement.”
Exxon also claimed that the company’s “2030 emission-reduction plans are consistent with Paris-aligned pathways.” The Paris Agreement seeks to keep global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and hopefully to 1.5 degrees, the temperature threshold after which damages to the climate become largely irreversible. To meet that goal, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we’ll need a 45% reduction of global emissions by 2030.
Exxon’s plan, however, accounts for a 2% reduction of overall emissions. Even Exxon’s “net-zero emissions” plan, which it released in January, proposes no reduction of emissions that come from the use of its products, leaving the onus on consumers to do pretty much all of the heavy lifting if those goals are to be met.
Exxon still claims to support a carbon tax, even though its lobbyist admitted that that support is a sham.
The report cites “a coordinated and transparent economy-wide price on carbon such as a carbon tax” as an example of an emissions reduction policy that Exxon supports.
That’s pretty rich, considering that Exxon’s former lobbyist Keith McCoy infamously confessed that the company supports a carbon tax only as a “talking point” because it thinks such a policy will never pass.
It covers up Exxon’s advocacy against climate action.
Exxon admits that it engages on climate-related policy issues with its online supporters through Exxchange, a “grassroots community made up of energy supporters from around the country who are interested in the industry, and are willing to engage with their respective lawmakers on public policy issues” — but then lies by saying it took no action on these issues in 2020.
Whaddya know: that same year, the company took to social media to ask “Exxchange” members to “act” against legislation on its behalf. Here’s just one example from February 2020:
Overall, the report mentions nothing about Exxon’s lobbying against climate policies — likely because Exxon largely enlists dark money front groups and trade associations to do its dirty work. You may recall that former Exxon lobbyist McCoy referred to the American Petroleum Institute, the world’s largest oil and gas trade association, as the industry’s “whipping boy,” and described Exxon’s hope that API will take the heat in Congress for stalling climate action.
“We don’t want it to be us, to have these conversations, especially in a hearing,” McCoy said. “It’s getting our associations to step in and have those conversations and answer those tough questions and be, for the lack of a better term, the whipping boy for some of these members of Congress.”
Exxon also used FTI, a global consulting firm, to run lobbying and influence campaigns disguised as grassroots support in 2020, according to reporting from the New York Times.
As we know from McCoy, Exxon did its own share of lobbying last year to take out the “negative stuff” on climate change — AKA efforts to reduce emissions — in Build Back Better. There’s evidence to suggest that the company was doing plenty of advocating in 2020, too — like the fact that an Exxon lobbyist made it on the list of The Hill's top lobbyists that year.
Let’s not forget that during last year’s House Oversight hearing on Big Oil’s still-running campaigns to spread climate disinformation, Exxon CEO Darren Woods refused to commit to stop spending money to oppose climate action. This latest report is another reminder that Exxon can never be trusted to stop lying about its climate destruction.
If “activist” shareholders really do want to see change at Exxon — and assuming they aren’t completely asleep at the wheel — they need to shed their rose-colored glasses, be honest about the corporation’s awful track record, and start getting tough on the need for true systemic change.
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