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Exxon Mobil protest

Climate activists protest on the first day of the Exxon Mobil trial outside the New York State Supreme Court building on October 22, 2019 in New York City. (Photo: Angela Weiss / AFP via Getty Images)

Big Oil Board Members Refuse to Testify on Climate Pledges

"Given all the loopholes and disinformation in their companies' 'net-zero' pledges, it's no wonder these board members are dodging the committee's request to testify," said one Big Oil critic.

Julia Conley

With board members from four Big Oil companies refusing to testify before Congress about their so-called net-zero plans, House Democrats will speak with climate experts next week about the failures of ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP to truly work toward reducing planet-heating emissions.

"No amount of spin can hide the reality that the fossil fuel industry is continuing to pollute and drive climate change."

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Oversight Committee, said Thursday that she was "disappointed" that board members from the four companies will not attend a hearing scheduled for February 8, where they were expected to answer questions about their net-zero fossil fuel emissions targets and other promises, but added that the panel will hear from "climate science experts who will tell us exactly what these companies need to do to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement."

"If these fossil fuel companies were really taking meaningful steps to curb dangerous emissions, their boards of directors would be eager to testify before the committee when requested, and speak to the American people," said Maloney, adding that another hearing being held on March 8 will be the board members' "last chance to cooperate" voluntarily.

"If their board members refuse to appear, they should expect further action from this committee," she said.

As Common Dreams reported last month, climate experts have denounced Exxon's plan to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050—a plan that leaves out the bulk of their products' emissions—as "greenwashing."

The Center for Climate Integrity (CCI) detailed the loopholes contained in the fossil fuel companies' climate pledges in a recent report showing that none will help the world limit global heating to 1.5° above pre-industrial levels in keeping with the Paris climate agreement.

The four companies' pledges have all been found to:

  • Exclude "scope 3" emissions—those that result from result from the ultimate use of the company's product—and focus instead on emissions directly and indirectly released from their operations;
  • Set targets that only cover a portion of their business, excluding portions like so-called "downstream operations" such as refining;
  • Rely on post-emission compensation rather than actually reducing emissions, with promises to plant trees or introduce carbon capture and storage; and
  • Rely on emission intensity metrics by producing oil more efficiently, resulting in an increase in absolute emissions.

The plans "ultimately serve little more than to greenwash the fossil fuel industry's image and deceive customers about the climate risks inherent in continued use of its products," said CCI.

"Given all the loopholes and disinformation in their companies' 'net-zero' pledges, it's no wonder these board members are dodging the committee's request to testify," said Richard Wiles, president of CCI, in a statement Thursday. "If they are paying attention, they know their companies' pledges are totally insufficient to avert climate catastrophe. No amount of spin can hide the reality that the fossil fuel industry is continuing to pollute and drive climate change."

The board members who have declined to testify are climate Dr. Susan Avery of Exxon, activist investor Alexander Karsner of Exxon, Enrique Hernandez of Chevron, Melody Meyer of BP, and Jane Holl Lute of Shell.

Their refusal comes four months after CEOs of the companies tesified before the same committee but refused to say, under oath, that they would stop spending money to oppose climate action.

"These [board] members are scientists and activists, people that understand the severity of our current situation and have previously called for action," said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who chairs the Oversight Committee's Subcommittee on the Environment, on Thursday. "Now, they will face a choice. Will they contradict their CEOs and admit more must be done on climate or will they chose fealty?"

"All options are on the table" if the board members do not speak to lawmakers voluntarily, Khanna said.

Robert Brulle, a visiting professor of environment and society, praised the lawmakers for "actually doing what they were elected to do—hold fossil fuel companies accountable."

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