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Sanders Slams Big Oil CEO Who Refuses to Testify at Senate Climate Hearing

"These companies are producing a significant percentage of the carbon that we use, which is destroying our planet, and we want to know what they are doing to transform their companies away from fossil fuel."

A gas flare at a petroleum refinery in Norco, Louisiana lights up the sky on August 21, 2019. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A gas flare at a petroleum refinery in Norco, Louisiana lights up the sky on August 21, 2019. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In the latest example of Big Oil's failure to face public scrutiny for a global crisis driven primarily by its products, Sen. Bernie Sanders said Thursday that a fossil fuel CEO has refused an invitation to testify at a congressional hearing on climate change next week. 

"What the leading experts in the world are telling us is we have five or six years to move away from fossil fuel or else there would be irreparable damage in our country and on our planet."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

CBS News reports Sanders (I-Vt.) invited BP America chairman and president David C. Lawler, Chevron CEO and chairman Michael Wirth, and ExxonMobil chair and CEO Darren W. Woods to participate in next Thursday's hearing, titled, "The Cost of Inaction on Climate Change." 

Sanders, who chairs the powerful Senate Budget Committee, told CBS News that Lawler declined the invitation, while the other two executives refused the network's requests for comment.

Lawler's refusal, said Sanders, "tells me these guys don't want to answer tough questions."

"These companies are producing a significant percentage of the carbon that we use, which is destroying our planet, and we want to know what they are doing to transform their companies away from fossil fuel," he said.

Sanders noted the long history of fossil fuel corporations—some of which have known about the link between their products and climate change for decades—lying to the public about the dangers of oil, gas, and coal. He called their deception "one of the scandals of our lifetime." 

In the United States, the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heating, and transportation is the largest source of the greenhouse gas emissions that drive global heating. According to the World Resources Institute, the U.S. produces about 13% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, second only to China, at 26%.

Such emissions have been a primary driver of catastrophic global heating. The past decade was the warmest ever recorded, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warning of even hotter years ahead. 

A warming planet is linked to more and worse climate-driven extreme weather events. CBS News notes there were 22 separate U.S. natural disasters causing more than $1 billion in destruction last year, for a total of more than $95 billion in damages.

Meanwhile, according to a statement from the Senate Budget Committee, "ExxonMobil made $22.4 billion in profits as CEO Darren Woods received a $15.6 million compensation package; Chevron made $5.43 billion in profits as CEO Michael Wirth received a $33 million compensation package; and BP made $20.7 billion in profits."

"What the leading experts in the world are telling us is we have five or six years to move away from fossil fuel or else there would be irreparable damage in our country and on our planet," said Sanders. "So we are up against an enormous crisis and we've got to move a lot more aggressively than we are today."

Climate campaigners have long argued that a swift transition to a post-fossil fuel economy is imperative to avert a worst-case scenario in which global temperatures rise by more than 8ºF by 2100, melting vast swathes of polar ice sheets, raising sea levels by as much as three feet, and causing severe destruction and disruption of life on Earth. 

Despite these risks, governments and most businesses have been slow to address the crisis. In the United States, fossil fuel companies receive tens of billions of dollars each year in bank financing, taxpayer subsidies, tax breaks, and other incentives.  

President Joe Biden calls the climate crisis an "existential threat" and while campaigning last year proposed a $2 trillion green energy plan. His Made in America Tax Plan, unveiled last week, also proposes eliminating over $35 billion in tax credits and loopholes for the fossil fuel industry. 

Activists and progressives who support a Green New Deal say these measures are not enough. Noting that "fossil fuel corporations receive $15 billion in direct subsidies from the federal government every year," John Noël, a senior climate campaigner at Greenpeace, said Wednesday that "not a dime of our tax dollars should go towards corporations that poison our communities and wreck our climate."

Sanders called Biden's poposal a "thoughtful plan" but said he does not fully support it. When asked by CBS News climate reporter Cara Corte why he won't vote to pass the plan and then press the president to act more urgently, the senator said that "it doesn't really work like that." 

"The president makes that proposal and now Congress has got to take a hard look at it and see where we go with it," he added.

Climate campaigners condemned Lawler's refusal to testify in the Senate, while calling on the other two Big Oil executives to appear at next week's hearing. 

"If the leadership of Exxon and Chevron is truly committed to working with policymakers on climate action, we expect them to quickly accept Sen. Sanders' invitation to  testify."
—Richard Wiles,
Center for Climate Integrity

"BP routinely claims to be committed to climate solutions, but its U.S. CEO is now refusing to publicly discuss these immensely important issues with members of Congress," Center for Climate Integrity executive director Richard Wiles said in a statement. "What is BP afraid of?"

"If the leadership of Exxon and Chevron is truly committed to working with policymakers on climate action, we expect them to quickly accept Sen. Sanders' invitation to testify," Wiles continued. "If they refuse, it will just be the latest example of their dishonesty and duplicity when it comes to climate."

"The truth is that executives from BP, Exxon, Chevron, and other Big Oil companies have spent decades lying to the American people about their commitment to solving climate change and the catastrophic climate damages they knew their products would cause," he added. "Refusing to testify just shines more light on their unwillingness to come clean on climate."

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