Exxon lobbyist says it pushed trade groups to 'be out front' on forever chemicals in activist recording

Exxon lobbyist says it pushed trade groups to 'be out front' on forever chemicals in activist recording
© iStock

A lobbyist for ExxonMobil said that it pushed trade groups to be at the forefront on an issue dealing with a class of toxic chemicals, saying in recordings taken by undercover activists that he didn’t want the company tied to those chemicals. 

“We manufacture PFAS, the chemical, we use it in our firefighting equipment, so we have pushed our associations to be out front on that,” said Exxon lobbyist Keith McCoy in audio that was recorded by the group Unearthed and later reviewed by The Hill. 

McCoy specifically mentioned the American Petroleum Institute and the American Chemistry Council. 

ADVERTISEMENT

McCoy added in the recording that he doesn’t think Exxon’s brand is “good” for PFAS. 

“We think if word got out that ExxonMobil manufactured those chemicals, that ExxonMobil uses those chemicals, it’s a talking point,” McCoy said. “It becomes the ExxonMobil chemical.”

An Exxon spokesperson denied that the company manufactures PFAS and said McCoy’s comments don’t reflect the company’s position. 

“ExxonMobil does not manufacture PFAS. Any statements to the contrary are simply false,” spokesperson Casey Norton said via email. “Products the company manufacturers are disclosed with government authorities and are publicly available.”

"This is an example of the many misstatements and false characterizations made in the recorded interviews. We condemn the statements. They in no way represent the company’s position on the issue,” he added. 

However, Norton did acknowledge that the company uses PFAS compounds in some of its products. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“Like many manufacturers, we use PFAS compounds in some products. For example, PFAS are found in common products such as wire insulation, circuit boards, and computer components,” the spokesperson said. 

Bethany Aronhalt, a spokesperson for the American Petroleum Institute, said in an email that the group is transparent about who's on its board and where the industry stands on policy issues. 

"We proudly disclose and advocate for both, either as API alone or as part of broader coalitions of manufacturers," Aronhalt said. "Our industry has a long public record of supporting policies that enable the safe and responsible development and use of American energy and other petroleum products while reducing emissions and protecting public health.”

The American Chemistry Council responded with a similar statement on Friday.

"The American Chemistry Council works openly and transparently to advance constructive, collaborative, and science-based public policy solutions," the group said. "Our work requires us to engage with a diverse set of stakeholders — from policymakers to NGOs, to the broader business community, including those like-minded, and not. Our positions are public and on the record."

Types of PFAS chemicals have been linked to health issues including cancer and immune system problems. They can be found in a variety of household goods, as well as drinking water. 

PFAS chemicals are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals” because they are persistent in the human body and environment and can accumulate over time. 

The recordings are the second release from Unearthed this week; on Wednesday, the group published comments in which McCoy said the company “aggressively [fought] against some of the science” on climate change, and called the company’s support for a carbon tax a talking point. 

Both Exxon’s CEO and McCoy apologized for those statements, with the CEO adding that the comments “ in no way represent the company’s position on a variety of issues, including climate policy.”

In the new set of comments, McCoy also described a plastics strategy, comparing it to how he advocates on climate. 

“When climate change came, well it’s here, but well when it started, you started to have conversations to say, ‘well you can’t completely change the electric grid from coal and gas into wind and here’s why.’ It’s the same conversation: 'you can’t ban plastics because here’s why,' ” he said. 

Unearthed said that a reporter affiliated with the group went undercover to talk with the lobbyist.

Updated on Friday at 11:06 a.m.