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Fossil fuel pollution

The fossil fuel industry's net-zero pledges, said one critic, "distract from their continued pollution and lobbying to kill efforts that address the climate crisis." (Photo: kris krüg/Flickr/cc)

House Calls Big Oil Board Members to Testify on 'Phony' Net-Zero Pledges

"It's critical that Congress holds these companies accountable and exposes the industry's fake climate pledges for the fraud that they are," said one supporter of Democrats' probe.

Jessica Corbett

After grilling fossil fuel chief executives on climate disinformation at a historic hearing last year, Democratic leaders sent letters late Thursday calling for board members at the same four major oil and gas giants to testify next month before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

"The companies now pretend to be part of the solution through phony 'net-zero' pledges that distract from their continued pollution and lobbying to kill efforts that address the climate crisis."

The testimony requests—and the threat of subpoenas if they don't cooperate—come after ExxonMobil, one of the targeted companies, came under fire this week for a new net-zero plan that one critic called "more greenwashing from the biggest climate liar in history."

Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity (CCI), welcomed Democrats' demand that members of BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell's boards of directors join the February 8 hearing to discuss the companies' climate commitments.

"Big Oil can no longer deny the reality and severity of climate change," Wiles said in a statement, "so the companies now pretend to be part of the solution through phony 'net-zero' pledges that distract from their continued pollution and lobbying to kill efforts that address the climate crisis, including parts of President [Joe] Biden's Build Back Better plan."

Campaigners demanding "real climate solutions" have long warned—as hundreds of groups highlighted during a global summit last year—that net-zero plans "blithely rely on assumptions that carbon offsets, tree plantations, bioenergy, and dangerous distractions such as hydrogen and carbon capture and storage will somehow keep or take emissions out of the air after polluters have done their damage."

Noting that "the fossil fuel industry has spent decades lying about its primary role in driving the climate crisis," Wiles praised the congressional probe for shining a light on polluters' actions.

"It's critical that Congress holds these companies accountable and exposes the industry's fake climate pledges for the fraud that they are," he said. "We applaud the Oversight Committee for working to expose Big Oil's dishonesty and the damage it continues to cause."

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the committee's chair, said in a statement that "as I made clear in our October 2021 committee hearing, we've only begun our investigation into the fossil fuel industry's role in causing the climate crisis and spreading disinformation on global warming."

Maloney—who issued subpoenas for key documents after the 2021 hearing—and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) are now seeking testimony from Melody Meyer at BP, Enrique Hernandez at Chevron, Alexander Karsner and Susan Avery at ExxonMobil, and Jane Holl Lute at Shell.

Their letters state that "boards of directors of fossil fuel companies have a key governance role to play in addressing the climate crisis by overseeing and guiding companies' climate strategies, promoting transparency, and holding management accountable to meaningful emissions reductions."

Khanna, who chairs the panel's Subcommittee on the Environment, told CNN that "one of the reasons we want the board of directors to testify is we want to ensure that they and the companies are being accurate about the climate pledges and they're actually taking action consistent with those pledges."

As the congressman put it to The Washington Post: "We have to look past the window dressing and really ask, what are these companies actually pledging in terms of getting to net-zero? And how are they going to actually achieve that?"

"We expect all of the directors to show up and answer honestly," he added, noting that "some of them got elected on a climate agenda."

While spokespeople for BP, Chevron, and Shell did not respond to the newspaper's request for comment, ExxonMobil's Casey Norton said the company has been "in regular communication with the committee since last summer and have provided staff with more than 200,000 pages of documents, including board materials and internal communications."

"In addition, our chairman and CEO voluntarily appeared before the committee and answered questions during the course of a six-hour hearing," Norton said.

Khanna told the Post he plans to question Karsner—one of three activist investors to win a seat on ExxonMobil's board last year—about CEO Darren Woods' comments to the committee.

CCI's Wiles, in October, called out Woods and the other Big Oil and trade group representatives who testified for their "silence, non-answers, and repeated deflections."

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