Lawmakers launch investigation into climate crisis disinformation by fossil fuel industry

Sep 16, 2021
In The News

The House Oversight and Reform Committee announced Thursday it is launching an investigation into fossil fuel industry disinformation on the climate crisis. The committee invited the heads of six oil companies and major lobbying groups to testify in front of the committee next month.

The announcement comes after reports the fossil fuel industry has participated in campaigns aimed at creating confusion about the cause of the climate crisis, or sowing skepticism in the science. An undercover video released this summer appeared to show an ExxonMobil lobbyist admitting the company fought climate policy and the science behind it.

House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney of New York and Subcommittee on the Environment Chairman Ro Khanna of California sent letters to top executives at ExxonMobil, BP America, Chevron Corporation, Shell Oil Company, the American Petroleum Institute and the US Chamber of Commerce.

Lawmakers are planning a high-profile hearing on October 28 to try to get oil company CEOs to admit they spread disinformation about climate change, Khanna told CNN.

The investigation has been taking place already for two months, Khanna said, and ExxonMobil has so far complied with the committee by producing "some very concerning documents."

Representatives from all six companies and lobbying groups told CNN they had received the letter.

Josh Hicks, a spokesperson for BP, told CNN the company's "ambition is to reach net zero by 2050 or sooner and to help the world get there. 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."

"Shell strongly supports the Paris Agreement and the need for society to transition to a lower carbon future, while extending the economic and social benefits of energy access to everyone," said Curtis Smith, a spokesperson for Shell.

In the letters to industry executives, the committee requested the companies and organizations to produce by September 30 related documents going back to 2015, specifically detailing any efforts to undercut climate science and 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?" Khanna told CNN. "Finally, they need to commit to stopping all of that."

In a letter to ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods, lawmakers wrote they are deeply concerned the fossil fuel industry has "reaped massive profits for decades while contributing to climate change that is devastating American communities, costing taxpayers billions of dollars, and ravaging the natural world."

"We are also concerned that to protect those profits, the industry has reportedly led a coordinated effort to spread disinformation to mislead the public and prevent crucial action to address climate change," the letter reads.

Khanna told CNN the hearing will align with Congress's planned timetable to pass massive climate and clean energy investments as part of President Joe Biden's budget bill. It also comes days before the UN climate conference begins in Glasgow, where world leaders will meet to discuss targets to reduce fossil-fuel emissions.

He said the purpose of the hearing is not to try to "embarrass" fossil fuel executives, but to get them to admit disinformation and commit to stopping it in the future.

"It will help our climate agenda if the fossil fuel industry and lobbyists know they're under a magnifying glass," Khanna said. "It's to try to get the climate disinformation to stop so we can have legislation pass the House and Senate to tackle the climate crisis."