House Democrats on Thursday grilled top oil executives, accusing them of engaging in a decadeslong disinformation campaign about their companies’ role in causing global warming.

What You Need To Know

  • House Democrats on Thursday grilled top oil executives, accusing them of engaging in a decadeslong disinformation campaign about their companies’ role in causing global warming

  • The heads of BP America, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell denied to the House Oversight and Reform Committee that they ever approved a disinformation campaign

  • The executives agreed that their industry has contributed to climate change, said they are working toward significantly reducing carbon emissions and insisted they are advocating for policies to address the environment

  • Later Thursday, following the meeting, the panel announced that Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney intends to subpoena ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Shell and API for documents related to the investigation

Testifying virtually at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, the heads of BP America, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell acknowledged that their industry has contributed to climate change, said they are working — with progress made — toward significantly reducing carbon emissions and insisted they are advocating for policies to address the environment.

They all denied ever approving a disinformation campaign.   

“While our views on climate change have developed over time, any suggestion that Chevron has engaged in an effort to spread disinformation and mislead the public on these complex issues is simply wrong,” Chevron CEO Michael Wirth said.

The executives said oil and gas have helped people’s quality of life and powered economies. They maintained that, while their businesses evolve and adapt, oil and gas will continue to be in demand long into the future.

Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said oil corporations have known for decades about the damage they were doing to the planet but dismissed such concerns publicly while also spending money on advertising and lobbying efforts aimed at stopping environmentally minded legislation that could have hurt their bottom lines.

“Exxon and other Big Oil companies had the opportunity to tell the truth and lead the way to find alternative energy sources, but instead Big Oil doubled down on fossil fuels,” Maloney said. “Working with the American Petroleum Institute and the Chamber of Commerce and other front groups and PR firms, the industry ran a coordinated campaign to mislead the public, hide the dangers of its own product and derail global efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions. 

“But the costs of inaction on climate have been far higher,” she added. “The American people lost more than 30 years when we could have curbed climate change. Today, we face stronger hurricanes, dangerous wildfires and destructive floods. As the efforts of climate change have become undeniable, Big Oil has changed its record and its rhetoric.”

Maloney was largely focused on ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Darren Woods during her questioning. She asked him about public comments his predecessor, Lee Raymond, made in 1996 and 1997, when Raymond cast doubt on global warming and argued that it was not clear whether human activity had a significant impact on the climate. Exxon scientists, Maloney noted, had been warning executives as early as 1978 that there was scientific agreement that mankind was influencing the climate through carbon dioxide released in the burning fossil fuels.

Woods insisted that Exxon’s “understanding of the science has been aligned with the consensus of the scientific community as far back as 20 years ago” and that its position has evolved along with the science.

“I was hoping that you would not be like the tobacco industry was and lie about this,” Maloney said, comparing the hearing  to the 1994 House Oversight Committee session in which tobacco executives denied that smoking was addictive and that nicotine was harmful.

Maloney also played an excerpt of a secretly recorded video in which McCoy, a former Washington-based lobbyist for Exxon, dismissed the company’s public support for a proposed carbon tax on fossil fuel emissions as a “talking point.” McCoy also said Exxon joined shadow groups that fought against early efforts aimed at combatting climate change.

His comments were recorded in June by the environmental by Greenpeace UK. McCoy no longer works for Exxon.

Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the committee’s top Republican, said the video was deceptively recorded and that Democrats only joined a Republican request for the full video Wednesday because “they apparently didn’t want the full video to be shown at today’s hearing.”

“The purpose of this hearing is clear — to deliver partisan theater for primetime news,” Comer said. 

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., pressed the heads of Shell and BP, who said they believe electric vehicles are important to reducing global carbon levels, to urge API — whose president, Mike Sommers, also testified Thursday — to stop advertising and lobbying against electric cars. 

Shell President Gretchen Watkins also said her company supports a methane fee on emissions from oil and natural gas systems, another API target. 

“You could tell them to knock it off, for the sake of the planet,” said Khanna, chairman of the Oversight Environmental Subcommittee.

“I understand you fund things for a lot of reasons,” he added. “You're the CEOs — you can't track all the details. But if your money is going to organizations that are against the fundamental values that you claim you stand for, don't you think you have some obligation to monitor where the money is going?”

He called on all four executives to commit to independent audits to verify they’re not funding campaigns that deny climate change.

Watkins and BP America CEO David Lawler said they don’t always agree with API but did not take up Khanna on his offer to call out the industry trade group Thursday.

Khanna also criticized the CEOs of Chevron and Exxon for not reducing oil and gas production, citing a United Nations report in May that said the development of new oil and gas fields must stop immediately for the world to meet the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Chevron plans to increase production by 3.5% and Exxon plays to maintain its current levels, although both companies say they will also cut carbon emissions.

“Are you embarrassed as an American company that your production is going up while your European counterparts are going down?” Khanna said.

“Congressman, as we have already heard, demand for energy is going up in the world,” Wirth answered. 

Republican committee members came to the defense of the oil executives. 

“I'll tell you what's frustrating is a member of Congress telling American oil and gas companies to reduce production,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. “At the same time, the president of the United States is begging OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) to increase production. That may be the dumbest thing I've ever heard.”

In August, Biden urged OPEC and its allies to boost oil output to help lower rising gasoline prices.

Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., argued that the world demand for oil and gas would not end if the United States stopped producing them. 

“We produce it most efficiently in the United States,” he said. “Why would we stop?"

Later Thursday, following the meeting, the House Oversight committee announced on Twitter that Chairwoman Maloney "announced her intent to issue subpoenas to ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Shell, and API" for documents key to the panel's investigation.