House members had another chance to call out Big Oil’s climate lies. Instead, some called for ramping up fossil fuel production.
Amid record gas prices, and their own record profits, oil and gas executives were back in the hot seat before Congress. The results were a mixed bag.
Emily Sanders is the Center for Climate Integrity’s editorial lead. Catch up with her on Twitter here.
Good afternoon. On Monday, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sounded the alarm bell, once again, that we’re hurtling towards irreversible climate catastrophe. The IPCC’s new report emphasizes that the only way we can avoid passing the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold of warming — and avert the most disastrous consequences of climate change — is to immediately cease construction of any new fossil fuel infrastructure and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning away from fossil fuels by the end of the decade.
U.N Secretary General António Guterres put the situation in no uncertain terms:
Which is why it was so existentially disappointing to hear lawmakers from both parties yesterday demand that fossil fuel companies increase their production of oil and gas as a matter of “patriotic duty.” Those calls came throughout a six-hour House Energy and Commerce hearing about record-high gas prices, where executives from six Big Oil companies refused to take responsibility and continued to push misleading claims about their commitments to cleaner energy sources.
Oil and gas companies are making record profits amid the war in Ukraine and volatile gas prices. But more fossil fuel production 1) won’t bring down gas prices in the short term, and 2) will keep us “firmly on track toward an unlivable world,” as Guterres put it Monday.
Lest we forget, Big Oil has fought for decades to keep us hooked on their products — and that reliance on oil and gas is what got us into this mess in the first place. And they are still standing in the way of the clean energy transition, which would actually provide Americans with cheaper, more reliable fuel.
Executives from BP, Shell, Exxon, Chevron, Devon Energy and Pioneer Natural Resources refused to stop profiteering at consumers’ expense.
Committee members brought the hammer down on the executives for raking in absurdly high profits, while the public — who already subsidize the industry to the tune of billions per year — are suffering at the pump.
As documented in a House Oversight committee letter to the executives, the companies’ announced that stock buybacks this year were significantly higher than the last, and those buybacks dwarfed their “low carbon” investments.
But when asked whether they would commit to reducing dividends and share buybacks — i.e., padding their investors’ pockets — in order to help consumers, the executives refused.
This was the second time in recent months that Big Oil executives were forced to testify before Congress; the first, in October, brought oil executives from Shell, BP, Chevron, Exxon, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Chamber of Commerce to testify about their climate disinformation campaigns before the House Oversight committee. A February hearing with climate and industry experts made clear that the companies are not actually committed to clean energy, and so did a peer reviewed study that said their transition away from fossil fuels “is not occurring.”
But on Wednesday, the executives again tried to paint themselves as good corporate citizens by lying about their low carbon investments and emissions reduction plans. It would’ve been nice if committee members had called them out and brought receipts.
Several oil majors also expressed their deep sorrow over Russia’s war in Ukraine — Chevron CEO Mike Wirth called the violence and loss of life “heartbreaking.” Clearly, they had nothing at all to do with fueling Russia’s war machine, setting up Europe’s dependence on Russian oil, and using the fallout of war to enrich its investors…
“The oil industry has a notorious track record of investing in countries run by petro-dictators, including Russia,” said Representative Paul Tonko. “According to recent reports, Shell, Exxon and BP are among nine American and European companies that have paid more than $15.8 billion in taxes and fees to Russia after it annexed Crimea in 2014.”
Big Oil’s allies in Congress rushed to their defense, blaming high gas prices on President Biden and regulation, and waxing poetic about American energy independence (which we have yet to gain from fossil fuels). Even if you can’t buy love, you can still buy U.S. politicians:
The overwhelming deception at yesterday’s hearing didn’t occur in a vacuum. This week’s U.N. climate report finally documented the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to spread climate disinformation in order to delay climate action.
The report emphasizes oil and gas companies’ “unique access to mainstream media,” where it can control the debate over fossil fuels “via advertisements, shaping narrative of media reports, and exerting political influence” in the U.S.
The report also gives a shout-out to climate liability suits, which serve as a way for communities across the country to hold Big Oil accountable for “mislead[ing] the public about climate science.”
Ultimately, oil companies have proven time and again that they aren't going to change their behavior on their own. As Kate Aronoff wrote, “If oil and gas executives aren’t going to increase production out of patriotic duty—or to fetch $200 per barrel—they’re also not likely to just give up on the $1 to 4 trillion of fossil fuel assets that could be rendered worthless if the world actually enacts climate policy and limits warming to 2 degrees Celsius, per the IPCC’s latest report. Appealing to these CEOs’ better angels is pointless.”
But Congress has the power to do something about it: They can end subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. They can pass the (highly popular) windfall profits tax on Big Oil and make clear that profiteering off the backs of working people is not an option. They can shift public investments into renewable energy.
It took more than two hours for any lawmaker to bring up Monday’s U.N. report at the hearing. It’s time we take a step back and remember the stakes, since many of our representatives seem to have lost the plot. Our dependence on fossil fuels is putting the survival of ecosystems, humanity, and the planet on the line. A failure to address and act on that fact is one that will cost countless lives.
Take it from U.N. Secretary General Guterres, whose statements on the IPCC report could well be a summary of this week’s hearing: “Some Government and business leaders are saying one thing, but doing another. Simply put, they are lying. And the results will be catastrophic.”
We need real accountability — an end to the ever-more corrosive pollution of our democracy — before it’s too late.
P.S., another big loss for Big Oil: This morning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled, against the industry’s best efforts, that the city of Baltimore’s lawsuit should proceed in state court. 🎉 Following last year’s SCOTUS ruling, this is the second time that a court has rejected Big Oil’s motions to move climate liability lawsuits to federal court. Here’s our statement.
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