Later this month, six CEOS from major fossil fuel companies and trade associations will testify before Congress at a hearing about the industry’s role in spreading climate denial, reports The Washington Post.
This will be the first time oil and gas CEOs testify about the industry’s decades-long disinformation campaigns before Congress. Top executives at ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, and Shell, as well as the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are slated to testify.
“In the history of Congress, the fossil fuel executives have never come before the committee … to explain climate disinformation and address the climate crisis. That will change,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California), chair of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment, told The Washington Post.
The industry leaders were invited by Khanna and House Oversight Chair Carolyn B. Maloney (D-New York), who sent letters asking them to testify last month.
“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,” wrote Khanna and Maloney. “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.”
Oil and gas CEOs have previously declined invitations from progressive lawmakers to testify before Congress; it appears they are only complying now because Khanna threatened them with subpoenas. In their letters, Khanna and Maloney called on Congress to curb disinformation from the fossil fuel industry, echoing demands that climate activists and researchers have been making for years.
Many fossil fuel companies have been studying climate disruption internally for decades and even had chances to pivot their products to renewable or no-carbon alternatives. Instead, they doubled down on spreading climate denial — and padding their own pockets.
Though documents show that Exxon has known about climate disruption since the 1970s, the company has denied its existence and lied to the public for years, all while playing a major role in undermining climate regulation. A huge amount of climate denial is driven by the fossil fuel industry, even as climate denial morphs into different forms over time. This is particularly true for disinformation that comes from lawmakers in Washington, many of whom have close ties with lobbyists from the oil and gas industry.
Climate researchers have called on Congress to tackle the fossil fuel industry’s continued efforts to obstruct climate action. In a House Oversight subcommittee hearing last year, Congress heard from a scientist involved in the fossil fuel industry’s internal climate communications for the first time.
“In reality, today’s climate chaos is big oil’s legacy, not ours,” wrote Harvard University climate researchers Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes last year. “Unlike the rest of us, the fossil fuel industry saw this climate chaos coming, then literally and figuratively added fuel to the fire, doubling down on a business model incompatible with the science of stopping global warming; buying political inaction; and building a global climate denial and delay machine that has confused the public and fomented distrust of science, media and government.”
Climate activists and state and local governments have filed lawsuits to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable, arguing that they have run deceitful climate denial campaigns and have lied to the public about the climate crisis. However, most of these lawsuits are pending, and many others have been thrown out.