Energy & Environment

Democrats call for oil company executives to testify on disinformation campaign

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) is seen as members Congressional Progressive Caucus take a photo outside the House Chamber on Monday, July 19, 2021.
Greg Nash

Two leaders on the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Thursday called on the CEOs of several major energy companies to testify in October about whether the companies suppressed information about their roles in climate change.

Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) sent a copy of the letter to the chief executives of ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell, as well as the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Chevron and Exxon both confirmed receipt of the letter to The Hill.

The letter invokes a recording made by undercover environmental activists of Keith McCoy, an Exxon lobbyist, who said the company has “[fought] against some of the science” on fossil fuels’ role in climate change. However, Khanna said the committee is seeking information on possible similar activity by all of the companies and organizations in question.

“We need an accounting, and the reason we need that is they’re telling their board of directors one thing, they’re telling the American public one thing. They’re saying they’re for sustainability. … They can’t be misleading the board of directors and the public,” Khanna told The Hill in an interview.

He added that the companies in question have a “record of climate disinformation, much of it maybe before the tenure of the current executives … but they need to be honest about what they have done.” He added that the committee is also seeking information about the companies’ history of lobbying against climate legislation, both personally and through think tanks and nonprofits that have put out research understating the threat of climate change.

Committee members will also seek a commitment from the executives to “stopping any form of climate disinformation and … running any interference on the climate agenda on the Hill,” Khanna said.

Khanna told The Hill the committee is aiming for hearings modeled after those that former Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) held in the 1990s, when he questioned the CEOs of major tobacco companies on whether nicotine is addictive. Khanna said the committee has enlisted the aid of “a lot of people” involved in planning the Waxman hearings for advice and planning.  

“We will be issuing a report with recommendations for legislation if necessary” after questioning the executives, Khanna said.

“The main thing is the American public is going to come to know exactly what these oil and gas companies have been doing and to make sure they’re being held accountable,” he added.

“API [the industry group] welcomes the opportunity to testify again before the House Oversight Committee and advance our priorities of pricing carbon, regulating methane and reliably producing American energy,” spokesperson Bethany Aronhalt said.

In a statement to The Hill, a Chamber spokesperson said the committee had a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the group’s climate positions.

“The Chamber believes that the climate is changing, that humans are contributing to those changes, and that inaction on climate is not an option,” the spokesperson added. “We know that durable policy is made through bipartisan action, so we’ve been working hard with Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to enact climate solutions, most notably the bipartisan infrastructure bill that includes historic investments in sustainable infrastructure.”

–Updated at 2:14 p.m.

Tags Carolyn Maloney Chamber of Commerce Climate change Henry Waxman House Oversight Committee Ro Khanna

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