Equilibrium & Sustainability

Exxon lobbyist concedes company fought ‘against some of the science’ in activist recording

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A lobbyist for ExxonMobil conceded the energy giant “aggressively [fought] against some of the science” behind climate change and describes their work against climate efforts with “shadow groups” in undercover footage filmed by an activist group called Unearthed.

The footage by Unearthed, which is affiliated with Greenpeace, shows lobbyist Keith McCoy describing the company’s carbon tax stance as simply a “talking point,” adding that he speaks with Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) office weekly.

After the report, Exxon distanced itself from McCoy’s comments, saying he wasn’t involved in developing its positions on the issues and stands by its climate commitments.

The footage was first shared with the British TV program Channel 4 News. Audio of the conversations was later obtained by The Hill, which verified the content.

McCoy denies that the company engaged in any illegal activity in its lobbying, depicting its tactics as standard activity. At one point, he specifically addresses litigation against the company that alleges it has known about climate change driven by carbon emissions for decades.

“Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes. Did we hide our science?  Absolutely not. Did we join some of these shadow groups to work against some of the early efforts?  Yes that’s true,” McCoy says in the recording. “But there’s nothing illegal about that.”

He goes on to say the company was acting in the interest of investors and shareholders. “Did we at some point figure out climate change and then decided to bury the evidence?  No,” he says.

Asked whether the company had information suggesting humans were contributing to warming as early as the 1980s, McCoy responds, “I think there was recognition that the earth was getting warmer [but] I would argue that there was no clear evidence in terms of how or why.”

“There is not an appetite for a carbon tax,… from [an] elected official perspective that’s a losing proposition,” McCoy said.

“Nobody is going to propose a tax on all Americans and the cynical side of me says ‘yeah we kind of know that,’ but it gives us a talking point that we can say ‘well what is ExxonMobil for? Well we’re for a carbon tax.’”

Asked about crucial senators, McCoy said that he talks with Manchin’s office “every week,” calling the conservative Democrat a “kingmaker.”

The Hill has reached out to Manchin’s office for comment.

Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods said in a statement that comments by McCoy and another person recorded by the activist group don’t reflect the company’s position on issues including climate.

“Comments made by the individuals in no way represent the company’s position on a variety of issues, including climate policy and our firm commitment that carbon pricing is important to addressing climate change. The individuals interviewed were never involved in developing the company’s policy positions on the issues discussed,” Woods said.

“We condemn the statements and are deeply apologetic for them, including comments regarding interactions with elected officials. They are entirely inconsistent with the way we expect our people to conduct themselves. We were shocked by these interviews and stand by our commitments to working on finding solutions to climate change,” he added.

In a LinkedIn post Wednesday, McCoy apologized for his comments.

“I am deeply embarrassed by my comments and that I allowed myself to fall for Greenpeace’s deception,” he wrote. “My statements clearly do not represent ExxonMobil’s positions on important public policy issues.”

“While some of my comments were taken out of context, there is no excuse for what I said or how I said it. I apologize to all my colleagues at the company and my friends in Washington, D.C., all of whom have a right to expect better of me,” he added. 

Unearthed said that its reporters pretended to be recruitment consultants trying to hire a lobbyist for a major client when it spoke with McCoy.

The tapes were already spurring condemnation from Capitol Hill.

“The recording we’ve heard today only solidifies what we already know: for decades, fossil fuel companies have lied to the public, to regulators, and to Congress about the true danger posed by their products,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “Today’s tape only proves our knowledge that the industry’s disinformation campaign is alive and well.”

Updated at 6:30 p.m.

Tags Joe Manchin Ro Khanna
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