House to Investigate Oil Industry’s Efforts to Undermine Climate Science

Image: Martin Falbisoner via Wikimedia Commons

By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor

The House Oversight and Reform Committee has announced an investigation into the fossil fuel industry’s disinformation campaigns on climate change after an undercover video released this summer showed an ExxonMobil lobbyist admitting that the company had fought against climate science. Executives from several big oil companies, the American Petroleum Institute, and the United States Chamber of Commerce will testify before Congress next month. 


Why This Matters: Disinformation has been in the news more than ever, but the oil industry has been pulling the strings of public opinion for decades. Employing big tobacco’s playbook, fossil fuel companies have fought to prevent policy and public opinion from embracing climate science and clean energy. Now, the world is facing the consequences — this summer’s wildfires and hurricanes have broken records, and the International Panel on Climate Change reports that the world has even less time than previously thought to reach net zero. To make net-zero emissions by 2050 a reality, the Biden administration will not only have to replace fossil fuels with renewable power, but hold Big Oil accountable for decades of gas-lighting and harm. 


Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

In the words of Exxon lobbyist Keith McCoy: “Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes. Did we join some shadow groups to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that’s true. But there’s nothing illegal about that. We were looking out for our investments. We were looking out for our shareholders.” 


In a covert recording by Greenpeace’s UK investigative platform, McCoy admitted that ExxonMobil worked behind the scenes to reject climate science. He added: “Nobody is going to propose a tax on all Americans. The cynical side of me says we kind of know that. But it gives us a talking point. We can say, ‘What is ExxonMobil for? We’re for a carbon tax.'”


Many oil companies, in recent years, have begun making climate pledges of their own and backing policies like a carbon tax. A BP spokesperson recently told CNN, “We are actively advocating for policies such as carbon pricing and regulating methane that will support the energy transition, the Paris climate agreement, and a net-zero world.” But McCoy’s words reveal that those claims may not be in good faith, and if they truly aren’t, the US won’t stand a chance of meeting the Paris Agreement goals. 


Now, the House oversight committee is requesting companies to produce all records going back to 2015 that detail any efforts to undermine climate science or policy. “They need to have answers for what climate disinformation is still going on with their companies — are they giving money to think tanks to try to influence studies?” Subcommittee on the Environment Chairman Ro Khanna told CNN. “Finally, they need to commit to stopping all of that.” The companies will have until September 30 to produce the documents and RSVP to testify. The committee says that depending on those responses, it may issue subpoenas.

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