Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to support our work—that time is now.

Our mission is simple: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

But without the support of our readers, this model does not work and we simply won’t survive. It’s that simple.
We must meet our Mid-Year Campaign goal but we need you now.

Please, support independent journalism today.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Woods

ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods during testimony before the U.S House Committee on Oversight and Reform on October 28, 2021. (Photo: Screenshot/C-SPAN)

"They're Lying": Lots of Climate Misinformation Detected During Testimony of Big Oil CEOs

"There is no longer any question: These companies knew and lied about their product's role in the climate crisis, they continue to deceive, and they must be held accountable."

Jessica Corbett

Fossil fuel executives who testified Thursday at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing focused on decades of coordinated industry misinformation refused to pledge that their companies will stop lobbying against efforts to combat the climate emergency driven largely by their businesses.

That joint refusal came in response to a challenge from Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform—who at the end of the hearing announced subpoenas for documents the fossil fuel companies have failed to provide.

Earlier in the hearing, Maloney had asked if the Big Oil CEOs would affirm that their organizations "will no longer spend any money, either directly or indirectly, to oppose efforts to reduce emissions and address climate change."

Advocates for climate action pointed to the moment as yet another example of major polluters impeding planet-saving policy.

"The silence, non-answers, and repeated deflections from Big Oil's Slippery Six exposed once and for all that the fossil fuel industry won't back off its commitment to spreading climate disinformation and lobbying against climate action in order to protect their bottom line," Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity, said in a statement.

"For the first time ever, fossil fuel executives were confronted under oath with the evidence of their industry's decadeslong efforts to deceive the American people about climate change," Wiles continued. "They not only refused to accept responsibility for lying about the catastrophic effects of their fossil fuels—they refused to stop funding efforts to spread disinformation and oppose climate action."

"There is no longer any question: These companies knew and lied about their product's role in the climate crisis, they continue to deceive, and they must be held accountable," he added. "Today's hearing and the committee's ongoing investigation are important steps in those efforts."

Maloney and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who chairs the panel's Subcommittee on the Environment, had threatened to subpoena the industry leaders—collectively dubbed the #SlipperySix—if they declined to join the hearing, entitled, "Fueling the Climate Crisis: Exposing Big Oil's Disinformation Campaign to Prevent Climate Action."

The historic event included testimony from four industry executives—ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods, BP America CEO David Lawler, Chevron CEO Michael Wirth, Shell Oil president Gretchen Watkins—and leaders from industry trade groups: American Petroleum Institute (API) president Mike Sommers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Suzanne Clark.

Kyle Herrig, president of the watchdog group Accountable.US, warned that "lawmakers should be wary of testimony from executives who have consistently put their industry's bottom line over the health of the climate and the American people, no matter their rhetoric."

Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes, a pair of climate misinformation scholars at Harvard University, have warned of a "fossil fuel savior frame" that "downplays the reality and seriousness of climate change, normalizes fossil fuel lock-in, and individualizes responsibility."

Both Oreskes and Fossil Free Media director Jamie Henn observed the presence of such framing during the hearing. Henn said that "it's striking how much all these Big Oil execs come across as hostage-takers: 'You need us. You can't live without us. You'll never escape."

The fossil fuel witnesses' initial remarks and responses to lawmakers' questions were full of industry talking points. They advocated for "market-based solutions" like carbon taxes while failing to offer specifics. They also highlighted carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technology and hydrogen—both of which progressive green groups have denounced as "false solutions"—as key to reaching a "lower-carbon future."

While suggesting a long-term need for oil and gas, the executives claimed to believe in anthropogenic climate change and said fossil fuel emissions "contribute" to global heating. Some critics called them out for using that term, rather than "cause" or "drive."

Using the the word "contribute" rather than cause, said HuffPost environment reporter Chris D'Angelo, "downplays/dismisses the science, which shows they are the primary driver... Frankly, it's climate denial—the very topic of this hearing."

After inquiring about how long all four executives had been in their current roles, the panel's ranking member, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), asked whether they had ever signed off on a climate disinformation campaign. They all said no—which experts and activists promptly disputed.

While progressives on the panel grilled the executives, Republicans repeatedly apologized to the CEOs for Democrats' supposed "intimidation" efforts. Blasting the GOP lawmakers' actions as "pathetic," Henn said that "they really do see themselves as servants to Big Oil."

The panel's GOP members also tried to redirect attention to planet-heating activities of other countries, particularly China, and complained about President Joe Biden's move to block the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, even inviting Neal Crabtree, a welder who lost his job when the project was canceled, to testify.

"The GOP's strategy at this hearing is clear: It will not attempt to claim Big Oil *didn't* mislead on climate," tweeted climate reporter Emily Atkin of the HEATED newsletter. "Instead, the GOP is claiming Democrats are wasting time by focusing on climate change, and that it isn't important to 'everyday Americans.'"

Thanking Atkin for spotlighting the Republicans' strategy, ClimateVoice noted that new polling shows the U.S. public does care about the issue. According to survey results released this week, a majority of Americans see climate as a problem of high importance to them and support Congress passing legislation to increase reliance on clean electricity sources.

Maloney, in her closing remarks Thursday, lamented that the hearing featured "much of the denial and deflection" seen in recent decades. She also called out the companies for not turning over requested documents, refusing to "take responsibility" for their contributions to the climate crisis, and continuing to fund groups like API. The chair vowed that her committee will continue its investigation.


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

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

'A Hate Crime': Oslo Pride Parade Canceled After Deadly Shooting at Gay Bar

A 42-year-old gunman has been charged with terrorism following what Norway's prime minister called a "terrible and deeply shocking attack on innocent people."

Kenny Stancil ·


'We WILL Fight Back': Outrage, Resolve as Protests Erupt Against SCOTUS Abortion Ruling

Demonstrators took to the streets Friday to defiantly denounce the Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority after it rescinded a constitutional right for the first time in U.S. history.

Brett Wilkins ·


80+ US Prosecutors Vow Not to Be Part of Criminalizing Abortion Care

"Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice," says a joint statement signed by 84 elected attorneys. "Prosecutors should not be part of that."

Kenny Stancil ·


Progressives Rebuke Dem Leadership as Clyburn Dismisses Death of Roe as 'Anticlimactic'

"The gap between the Democratic leadership, and younger progressives on the question of 'How Bad Is It?' is just enormous."

Julia Conley ·


In 10 Key US Senate Races, Here's How Top Candidates Responded to Roe Ruling

While Republicans unanimously welcomed the Supreme Court's rollback of half a century of reproductive rights, one Democrat said "it's just wrong that my granddaughter will have fewer freedoms than my grandmother did."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo