Skip to main content

Common Dreams. Journalism funded by people, not corporations.

There has never been—and never will be—an advertisement on our site except for this one: without readers like you supporting our work, we wouldn't exist.

No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news and opinion 365 days a year that is freely available to all and funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

Our mission is clear. Our model is simple. If you can, please support our Fall Campaign today.

Support Our Work -- No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. Please support our Fall Campaign today.

ExxonKnew

Climate activists protested outside ExxonMobil's annual meeting of shareholders in Irving, Texas on May 29, 2019. (Photo: 350.org/Flickr/cc)

Dems Call Fossil Fuel CEOs, Lobbyists to Testify About Climate Disinformation

"Oil and gas executives have lied to the American people for decades about their industry's role in causing climate change. It's time they were held accountable."

Jessica Corbett

Democratic leaders on the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee sent letters Thursday inviting the heads of key fossil fuel companies and lobbying groups to testify before the panel about the industry's contributions to climate disinformation in recent decades.

"Exposing the industry's disinformation is a critical step in holding it accountable for the damage it has done and clearing the way for meaningful change."
—Jamie Henn, Fossil Free Media

Applauded by advocates of holding polluters and their business partners accountable for fueling the worsening climate emergency, the letters come amid concerns about how corporate lobbyists may influence a bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better package—especially in the wake of a damning exposé on ExxonMobil earlier this summer.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who respectively chair the House panel and its Environment Subcommittee, wrote that "we are deeply concerned that the fossil fuel industry has reaped massive profits for decades while contributing to climate change that is devastating American communities, costing taxpayers billions of dollars, and ravaging the natural world."

"We are also concerned that to protect those profits, the industry has reportedly led a coordinated effort to spread disinformation to mislead the public and prevent crucial action to address climate change," the pair continued. They also expressed concern that such "strategies of obfuscation and distraction continue today," noting that "fossil fuel companies increasingly outsource lobbying to trade groups, obscuring their own roles in disinformation efforts."

"One of Congress's top legislative priorities is combating the increasingly urgent crisis of a changing climate," the lawmakers added. "To do this, Congress must address pollution caused by the fossil fuel industry and curb troubling business practices that lead to disinformation on these issues."

ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods, BP America CEO David Lawler, Chevron CEO Michael Wirth, Shell president Gretchen Watkins, American Petroleum Institute (API) president Mike Sommers, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Suzanne Clark (pdfs) now have a week to inform Democrats if they plan to willingly testify at the panel's October 28 hearing.

Pointing to industry leaders' past behavior, Accountable.US president Kyle Herrig said that "these polluters have long proven they're more concerned with boosting their executives' bottom lines than with protecting the climate. The only question is: will they defend their harmful actions before Congress? Or will they again refuse to answer to the American people?"

The Democrats also requested information from the firms, including internal communications and memos about climate science and related marketing as well as plans to reduce planet-heating emissions across the industry. If the letter recipients refuse to participate or turn over those materials, the panel's leaders may issue subpoenas.

Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity, celebrated the letters in a statement that acknowledged other efforts to hold the industry accountable, including more than two dozen lawsuits filed by state and local governments in recent years.

"We applaud Chairs Maloney and Khanna for demanding that these executives answer for their history of climate deception," he said. "Oil and gas executives have lied to the American people for decades about their industry's role in causing climate change. It's time they were held accountable. If the executives refuse to testify voluntarily, they should be subpoenaed."

In a video released earlier this month, Khanna vowed that the panel's probe of the fossil fuel industry's role in climate disinformation "will be like the Big Tobacco hearings" of the 1990s.

Harvard University researcher Geoffrey Supran—whose academic publications include the first peer-reviewed analysis of ExxonMobil's 40-year history of climate communications—said at the time that "it's no surprise that Big Oil and Big Tobacco have used the same propaganda playbook to confuse the public and undermine political action, because they rely on many of the same PR firms and advertising agencies to do their dirty work."

Ad and PR agencies are under mounting pressure to ditch fossil fuel clients for good, thanks in part to the Clean Creatives campaign supported by Fossil Free Media, both of which welcomed the letters.

"This is a landmark day in the climate fight," said Fossil Free Media director Jamie Henn, noting the impact of the tobacco hearings. "For decades, the fossil fuel industry has polluted our political process along with polluting our atmosphere. Exposing the industry's disinformation is a critical step in holding it accountable for the damage it has done and clearing the way for meaningful change."

Clean Creatives campaign director Duncan Meisel suggested that "this investigation is the beginning of the end of misleading fossil fuel advertising and PR in the United States."

"For too long, this industry has used fake front groups, advanced greenwashing, and straight up deception to delay climate action, every time with the willing help of some of the biggest ad and PR firms in the world," he said. "Reps. Khanna and Maloney are following in the footsteps of congressional investigations that devastated the reputations of tobacco companies and their advertisers. Fossil fuel companies and their agencies are now on notice that they are next."

This post has been updated with comment from Accountable.US.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'All You Have to Do Is Follow the Money': Ilhan Omar Rebukes Corporate Democrats

"It is corporate greed, and the lawmakers who serve them," argues the Minnesota Democrat, "who are betraying the values of our party and the American people."

Jon Queally ·


'Outrageous and Shameful': Dems May Cut Paid Leave Due to Manchin's Opposition

Decrying the plan, advocacy groups vowed that "the American people are not going to allow that essential human need to be ignored and negotiated away behind closed doors."

Jessica Corbett ·


Open Letter Warns Trump's 'Big Lie' GOP Poses Existential Threat to Democracy

"Now is the time for leaders in all walks of life—for citizens of all political backgrounds and persuasions—to come to the aid of the republic."

Brett Wilkins ·


Ahead of Historic House Hearing, Fresh Big Oil Misinformation Campaign Exposed

"It's always helpful to remember that big fossil fuel companies (besides being overwhelmingly responsible for carbon pollution) are also skeevy disinformation hucksters."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Very Welcome' Progress as Iran Agrees to Restart Talks on Nuclear Deal Sabotaged by Trump

One peace advocate urged all sides to reconvene negotiations "as soon as possible and with renewed urgency" to avert "disastrous" consequences for Iran and the world.

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo