Oil executives testify about climate disinformation

By Ella Nilsen, Aditi Sangal, Angela Fritz, Meg Wagner and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 5:21 p.m. ET, October 28, 2021
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11:25 a.m. ET, October 28, 2021

Ro Khanna to Big Oil: "Spare us the spin" and just be human

From CNN's Matt Egan

Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna speaks on Capitol Hill on Thursday, October 28.
Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna speaks on Capitol Hill on Thursday, October 28. (Pool)

Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna urged oil executives to own up to their history on climate change and make this a turning point in climate crisis.

“Spare us the spin today. We have no interest in it,” Khanna, the chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on the Environment, said during his opening remarks. “Spin doesn’t work under oath.”

Khanna urged Big Oil not to follow in the footsteps of Big Tobacco executives when they testified in 1994.

“They too faced a choice. They chose to lie under oath, deny that nicotine is addictive,” Khanna said. “That didn’t turn out too well for them.”

The Democrat from California urged the oil executives to be better.

“Today, don’t think of yourselves as CEOs,” Khanna said. “Think of yourselves as human beings.” 

12:59 p.m. ET, October 28, 2021

Exxon CEO denies company has spread climate disinformation

From CNN's Matt Egan

ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods.
ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods. (Pool)

ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods flatly denied during his opening remarks that America’s largest oil company resorts to climate denialism.

“Exxon does not, and never has, spread disinformation regarding climate change,” Woods said in his prepared remarks. “Its public statements about climate change are, and have been, truthful, fact-based, transparent and consistent with the views of the broader, mainstream scientific community at the time.”

Woods also denied Exxon withheld information about climate change.

“Nor has ExxonMobil ever had any knowledge about climate science that was not broadly known or readily available to policy makers or the public. Any suggestion to the contrary is false,” Woods said.

The comments stand in stark contrast with what Democrats and climate activists have argued and attempted to prove through documents.

The Exxon CEO argued the company contributed to the development of climate science and as science’s understanding of climate change evolved, Exxon “responded accordingly.”

“ExxonMobil has long acknowledged that climate change is real and poses serious risks,” Woods said. 

11:10 a.m. ET, October 28, 2021

The oil executives were just sworn in

The heads of six oil companies and major lobbying groups were just sworn in for their testimony in front of the House Oversight and Reform Committee today.

They are:

  • Darren Woods, chief executive officer of ExxonMobil Corporation                   
  • David Lawler, chief executive officer of BP America Inc.
  • Mr. Michael K. Wirth, chief executive officer of Chevron Corporation
  • Ms. Gretchen Watkins, president of Shell Oil Company
  • Mr. Mike Sommers, president of American Petroleum Institute
  • Ms. Suzanne Clark, president and Chief Executive Officer of the US Chamber of Commerce

Each of the executives will now given an opening statement. Woods is up first.

10:52 a.m. ET, October 28, 2021

Fossil fuel companies' words don't match their actions, Democrats argue

From CNN's Ella Nilsen

 House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney speaks during the hearing on Thursday, October 28.
 House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney speaks during the hearing on Thursday, October 28. (Pool)

At the House Oil executives' hearing Thursday, Democratic lawmakers plan to argue that fossil fuel companies’ rhetoric on climate does not match their actions.

“Today’s staff memo shows Big Oil’s campaign to ‘greenwash’ their role in the climate crisis in action,” House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney will say in her opening statement, according to a copy of her remarks. “These oil companies pay lip service to climate reforms, but behind the scenes they spend far more time lobbying to preserve their lucrative tax breaks.” 

A staff memo from the committee states that while big fossil fuel companies and trade groups have been publicly stating their support for President Joe Biden’s decarbonization goals, they have continued to promote the extraction and use of dirty fossil fuels.

The memo finds Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP, and the American Petroleum together have spent $452.6 million in funds to lobby the federal government since 2011. Of that, a meager portion has gone to lobbying to promote climate goals around the US Paris Agreement commitments to decarbonize and move away from fossil fuels, Oversight staff found.  

Out of 4,597 instances of lobbying since 2015 – the year the Paris Agreement was adopted – there were only 8 instances of lobbying on the Paris agreement. Staff found that the oil companies were far more likely to lobby the federal government to lower their taxes.  

The committee also found the amount companies are investing in projects designed to lower their carbon emissions is small. The staff memo shows that ExxonMobil reportedly invested less than 1% of its capital expenditures into low-carbon projects between the year 2010 and 2018, while BP invested about 2.3% into low-carbon projects. The staff memo also states that Shell’s 2020 greenhouse gas emissions were “nearly twice that of the entire nation of Canada.” 

10:27 a.m. ET, October 28, 2021

House lawmakers launched an investigation into climate crisis disinformation by the fossil fuel industry

From CNN's Ella Nilsen

(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The House Oversight and Reform Committee announced last month that it was launching an investigation into fossil fuel industry disinformation on the climate crisis, and invited the heads of six oil companies and major lobbying groups to testify in front of the committee today.

The committee's announcement came after reports the fossil fuel industry has participated in campaigns aimed at creating confusion about the cause of the climate crisis, or sowing skepticism in the science. 

An undercover video released this summer appeared to show an ExxonMobil lobbyist admitting the company fought climate policy and the science behind it.

House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney of New York and Subcommittee on the Environment Chairman Ro Khanna of California sent letters to top executives at ExxonMobil, BP America, Chevron Corporation, Shell Oil Company, the American Petroleum Institute and the US Chamber of Commerce.

Lawmakers are planning to try to get oil company CEOs to admit they spread disinformation about climate change at the high-profile hearing, Khanna told CNN.

The investigation had already been taking place already for two months, Khanna said, and ExxonMobil has so far complied with the committee by producing "some very concerning documents."

Josh Hicks, a spokesperson for BP, told CNN the company's "ambition is to reach net zero by 2050 or sooner and to help the world get there. We are actively advocating for policies such as carbon pricing and regulating methane that will support the energy transition, the Paris climate agreement and a net zero world."

"Shell strongly supports the Paris Agreement and the need for society to transition to a lower carbon future, while extending the economic and social benefits of energy access to everyone," said Curtis Smith, a spokesperson for Shell.

In the letters to industry executives, the committee requested the companies and organizations to produce by Sept. 30 related documents going back to 2015, specifically detailing any efforts to undercut climate science and policy.

"They need to have answers for what climate disinformation is still going on with their companies — are they giving money to think tanks to try to influence studies?" Khanna told CNN. "Finally, they need to commit to stopping all of that."

10:04 a.m. ET, October 28, 2021

UN report shows huge gap remains between emissions pledges and what’s actually needed

From CNN’s Rachel Ramirez and John Keefe

Thursday's House hearing with oil executives comes just days after the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released a damning report.

Nearly 200 countries have pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions to stave off the worst consequences of our warming planet, but there is still a huge gap between what's been promised and what scientists say is needed, according to a report by the organization.

With just days left until leaders meet at the UN's COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, dozens of nations have not yet officially updated their pledges to reduce emissions, as they are supposed to do under the rules of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Of the G20 countries, which account for 80% of the world's emissions, only six nations have formally increased their targets. The report also found that six G20 nations, including the United States, never met their older targets. The others were Canada, Australia, Brazil, South Korea and Mexico.

The planet has already warmed by around 1.2 degrees, scientists say. The latest set of global climate pledges, according to the report released Tuesday, fall far short of what's necessary to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — a critical threshold that scientists say the world should remain below.

The annual "emissions gap" report outlines the difference between what countries have pledged and what more needs to be done. To limit warming to 1.5 degrees, UNEP reports the world needs to slash current emissions in half in the next eight years. 

The report found that new and updated pledges on emissions will only cut an additional 7.5% by 2030, but a 55% cut is needed to meet the goal of containing warming to 1.5 degrees. A 30% reduction would be needed to stay below 2 degrees.

Under countries' current fossil fuel emissions targets, it will continue to warm to 2.7 degrees, according to UNEP.

"Countries have stretched, but they've not stretched enough," Inger Andersen, executive director of the UNEP, told CNN.

"Many of them sort of kick the can down the road, and we need to see not pledges anymore we actually need to see real action."

9:55 a.m. ET, October 28, 2021

These are the oil executives testifying today in the House

From CNN's Ella Nilsen

The House Oversight and Reform Committee launched an investigation in September into fossil fuel industry disinformation on the climate crisis.

The committee invited the heads of six oil companies and major lobbying groups to testify in front of the committee today.

These are the witnesses:

  • Darren Woods, chief executive officer of ExxonMobil Corporation                   
  • David Lawler, chief executive officer of BP America Inc.
  • Mr. Michael K. Wirth, chief executive officer of Chevron Corporation
  • Ms. Gretchen Watkins, president of Shell Oil Company
  • Mr. Mike Sommers, president of American Petroleum Institute
  • Ms. Suzanne Clark, president and Chief Executive Officer of the US Chamber of Commerce

House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney of New York and Subcommittee on the Environment Chairman Ro Khanna of California sent letters to the top executives and requested the companies and organizations to produce by September 30 related documents going back to 2015, specifically detailing any efforts to undercut climate science and policy.