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Valero after California fire

A burned Valero gas station smolders during the Creek Fire in an unincorporated area of Fresno County, California on September 08, 2020. (Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

Report Exposes Decades of 'Big Oil Lies' as Industry Faces Congressional Scrutiny

"Big Oil's reckoning couldn't come a moment too soon," said Jennifer K. Falcon of Ikiya Collective and Fossil Free Media. "Our window to avoid utter chaos is closing rapidly."

Jessica Corbett

As Democrats in Congress take aim at the harmful tactics of fossil fuel companies this week, campaigners published a report Wednesday exposing the industry's "playbook of deceit, denial, and delay as the climate crisis intensifies."

"Like Big Tobacco, Big Oil may soon have to pay for its abuses."

The report—titled Big Oil Lies: What Is Big Oil Really Doing With Their Massive Profits?—follows decades of climate denial by the fossil fuel industry, which long knew of the world-wrecking impacts of its products, and months of the sector's price gouging and war profiteering since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.

Authored by Fossil Free Media and the Stop the Oil Profiteering, the memo was released as the House Committee on Oversight and Reform's civil rights and liberties panel held a hearing on the fossil fuel industry "weaponizing the law" to stifle protests, and the House Natural Resource Committee's oversight subcommittee held a hearing on public relations firms' contributions to crafting and spreading climate misinformation.

Thursday morning, the House Oversight Committee is set to hold its third hearing on climate disinformation. Representatives from BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell refuse to testify. Noting that refusal, the new report explains that "instead, the committee will be hearing from people impacted by climate disasters and a panel of experts who will focus on a key question: What is Big Oil really doing with all their money?"

To get to the answer, the document details, "all you have to do is follow the money—from our pockets, to Big Oil's coffers, and then directly into the hands of their wealthy shareholders and CEOs."

The memo features sections on the oversight hearings; how companies are "adding the pockets" of executives and shareholders; greenwashing efforts; loopholes in fossil fuel giants' climate plans; profiles of BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell; the sector's lobbying against climate solutions; and what comes next.

Highlighting that Big Oil has hiked prices to rake in record profits, which have funded stock buybacks that serve shareholders—including executives with stock holdings—the report warns that "continued reliance on fossil fuels will keep pouring money into the pockets of those who are most protected from the damage of the climate crisis and rising costs, while the vast majority of Americans and people around the world suffer."

Fossil fuel firms may publicly claim they want to help tackle the climate emergency, but their "net-zero pledges are the latest round of greenwashing in Big Oil's decadeslong campaign of denial and disinformation," the memo argues. These "false climate commitments are all designed for one purpose: delay. Delay regulations, delay public pressure, delay accountability, delay the inevitable transition to clean, renewable energy."

Some of the "tricks and loopholes" that the dirty energy industry uses "to mislead the public, investors, and regulators," according to the report, include focusing on long-term targets, ignoring scope 3 emissions, relying on carbon offsets, promoting carbon capture and storage, promising "blue hydrogen," directing attention to their limited investments in clean energy.

"Meanwhile, the same sector poured over $112 million into political lobbying that year. In 2021, that number ticked up to over $115 million, accommodating a payroll of 746 lobbyists, one of whom was infamously caught on camera bragging about weekly meetings with Joe Manchin," the document notes, referring to the Democratic senator from West Virginia who has impeded his own party's climate goals while pushing legislation to benefit the fossil fuel industry.

The good news? As the memo points out, "The House Oversight Committee hearings into climate disinformation are part of a growing wave of regulatory efforts, lawsuits, and public campaigns designed to finally hold Big Oil accountable for their climate crimes."

Cassidy DiPaola, a spokesperson for the Stop the Oil Profiteering campaign, compared the congressional scrutiny of the fossil fuel industry to that which was ultimately brought to bear on the nation's powerful tobacco companies.

"For years, the oil and gas industry has been able to erect a mountain of denial and disinformation to stand in the way of climate progress," said DiPaola. "But like Big Tobacco, Big Oil may soon have to pay for its abuses."

Jennifer K. Falcon of Ikiya Collective and Fossil Free Media stressed that "Big Oil's reckoning couldn't come a moment too soon."

"As this summer's catastrophic heatwaves and record flooding make it clear, the impacts of the climate crisis are already being felt around the world, especially in Indigenous, Black, communities of the global majority and low-income communities," Falcon said. "Our window to avoid utter chaos is closing rapidly."

That warning of the need to act now was also the key takeaway from a United Nations report published Tuesday—which coincided with the release of a peer-reviewed study showing that fully transitioning to clean energy by 2050 could not only save lives and the planet but also save the world $12 trillion.

"Accelerating the transition to renewable energy is now the best bet not just for the planet," said the lead author of that study, "but for energy costs too."


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