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Exxon Lobbyist

Keith McCoy, a senior director in ExxonMobil's Washington, D.C. government affairs team, was secretly recorded by Unearthed, Greenpeace U.K.'s investigative journalism arm. (Photo: Screenshot/Unearthed via Channel 4 News)

House Dems Ask ExxonMobil Lobbyist to Testify About Climate Misinformation

"For decades, the fossil fuel industry and its allies have used the same tactics as the tobacco industry to spread denial and doubt about the harm of its products," the letter states.

Brett Wilkins

Three weeks after the publication of secret footage showing current and former ExxonMobil lobbyists boasting about their access to U.S. lawmakers and their work to thwart attempts to combat the climate emergency, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee on Monday asked one of the men in the video to testify about Big Oil's efforts to "mislead the global public and members of Congress about the dangers of fossil fuels and their role in causing global climate change."

Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Environment Subcommittee Chair Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) sent the letter (pdf) to Keith McCoy, ExxonMobil's senior director of federal relations, noting that the lobbyist was "secretly recorded during a video interview with a reporter at Greenpeace U.K., which was aired by Channel 4 News in the United Kingdom on June 30, 2021."

The letter continues:

During the interview, you said, "Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes." You added, "Did we join some of these shadow groups to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that's true." In the same video, you spoke candidly about ExxonMobil's current public support for a price on carbon as a mere publicity stunt. You asserted that the company does not actually believe such a policy will ever exist. Your statements suggest that in supporting this policy, ExxonMobil is seeking to create the false appearance that it has become more climate friendly.

In a second report on July 1, 2021, Channel 4 News broadcast additional segments from the video interview. During one portion of the interview, you stated that ExxonMobil manufactures per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), dangerous "forever chemicals" that can cause serious health problems and persist in the environment. You also compared ExxonMobil's approach to lobbying Members of Congress to fishing. You stated, "I liken it to fishing, right? You know you have bait, you throw that bait out."

"Your statements raise serious concerns about your role in ongoing efforts by ExxonMobil and the fossil fuel industry to spread climate disinformation, including through the use of 'shadow groups,' in order to block action needed to address climate change," the letter states. "Your statements also raise questions about ExxonMobil's operations and the dangerous emissions and pollution the company generates."

Evan Weber, co-founder of the youth-led climate justice group Sunrise Movement, suggested that if McCoy doesn't comply with the lawmakers' request, they could subpoena him.

The lawmakers' letter also notes that "ExxonMobil has had scientific evidence about the danger posed by climate change since at least 1981. Yet for decades, the fossil fuel industry and its allies have used the same tactics as the tobacco industry to spread denial and doubt about the harm of its products—undermining the science and preventing serious action on climate change."

"Your statements raise serious concerns about your role in ongoing efforts by ExxonMobil and the fossil fuel industry to spread climate disinformation, including through the use of 'shadow groups.'"
—Lawmakers' letter

"ExxonMobil has played a large role in these decades of climate disinformation," the letter says. "Meanwhile, the United States saw an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, including from the energy sector, between 1990 and 2019. Carbon pollution emissions from fossil fuel combustion accounted for over 92% of carbon dioxide emissions in 2019 and were responsible for most of the increase in emissions from 2009 to 2019 in the United States. The United States has experienced 19 of the warmest years on record since 2000."

Darren Woods, ExxonMobil's chairman and CEO, responded to the publication of the undercover video by attempting to distance his company from McCoy's remarks, calling them "disturbing," "inaccurate," and "entirely inconsistent with our commitment to the environment [and] transparency."

Fossil Free Media director Jamie Henn in turn said that Woods' statement "isn't an apology, it's a cover-up."

"Exxon is in full damage control mode, but I don't think they can cover this one up. The leaked tape wasn't from a random intern, but from their senior director of legislative affairs," Henn told Common Dreams earlier this month. "The idea that he wasn't representing the company's real positions is ludicrous."

Two weeks ago, a pair of reports shed further light on ExxonMobil's efforts to influence Democratic members of Congress and centrist think tanks.

One report, by HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman, reviewed an analysis by the advocacy group Oil Change U.S. of campaign contributions to six Democratic U.S. senators named in the undercover video, revealing they'd collectively raked in nearly $330,000 from lobbyists and political action committees (PACs) affiliated with ExxonMobil.

The other report, by Kate Aronoff of The New Republic, revealed that the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and other think tanks have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from ExxonMobil.

Earlier this month, Khanna told Channel 4 News that Big Oil executives "will have to answer" lawmakers' questions about their lobbying tactics.

"We expect them to voluntarily comply, but let me just say we're prepared to do whatever it takes to have them come in," said Khanna. "They're not going to be able to evade Congress."

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