WASHINGTON, Oct.27 (Reuters) – A congressional hearing this week on whether oil companies have misled the public about climate change marks the start of a broad investigation that could spread to others sectors, from advertising to social media, according to a lawmaker leading the effort.
Radical nature of Democrat-led inquiry reflects growing urgency within the party to tackle global warming as Republicans and moderate Democrats block climate provisions at the heart of President Joe Biden’s spending bill , and as world leaders prepare to meet on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland next month.
“It will be a one-year investigation and the hearings mark the beginning of it,” Representative Ro Khanna, a progressive Democrat member of the House committee, told Reuters. “The idea is that they admit to the American people what they have done.”
Senior executives from Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N), BP America (BP.L), Chevron Corp (CVX.N) and Shell Oil (RDSa.L), as well as lobby groups such as the The American Petroleum Institute and the Chamber of Commerce will testify on Oct. 28 at the Chamber Oversight Committee hearing.
Democratic lawmakers have said they want to model the event after the House big tobacco inquiry in the 1990s, which spanned several months and ultimately revealed that the companies buried evidence that the cigarettes are addictive and harmful.
Khanna said Thursday’s hearing will focus on the energy industry’s decades-long denial that their products have played a leading role in climate change, and the reality of current claims by companies in for climate action.
He said the committee would also look to the oil industry’s use of advertising and social media platforms and would also seek testimony from executives of those companies.
Executives of social media companies like Facebook Inc (FB.O) and Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) have already come under scrutiny from Congress over their role in the pervasiveness of fake news and its impact. on the welfare of young social media users.
The CEOs who agreed to testify at the virtual hearing are Darren Woods of Exxon Mobil (XOM.N), David Lawler of BP America (BP.L), Michael Wirth of Chevron (CVX.N) and the president of Shell Oil (RDSa.L) Gretchen Watkins. American Petroleum Institute President Mike Sommers and Chamber of Commerce President Suzanne Clark will also testify.
All of them denied that they had deliberately misled the public about climate change.
BIG OIL’S STRATEGY
A source involved in the oil industry’s pre-hearing preparations said the companies hoped to use the hearings to highlight their recent efforts to tackle climate change through investments in renewable energy and research and Development.
The leaders were also expected to highlight the rise in gasoline and natural gas prices due to the global energy supply crisis and argue that a rapid move away from fossil fuels would lead to even higher energy bills, a said the source.
Committee chair Carolyn Maloney had asked executives for documents from the 1970s showing who companies and groups were funding climate campaigns and which in-house scientists had advised them on climate.
Khanna said the committee was not happy with the number of documents submitted so far and hinted it could lead to subpoenas. “We are ready to use any tool at our disposal to get more documents,” he said.
He said the documents received so far included some of a former Exxon lobbyist Keith McCoy, who was secretly registered by environmental group Greenpeace, claiming the company’s support for a carbon tax was a ruse to appear progressive on climate change since the company believed the idea would never become law.
Exxon said McCoy’s statements were an inaccurate description of the company’s position. McCoy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Thursday’s hearing will also likely highlight a strategic divide between European and US energy companies on climate change. European companies like BP and Shell are getting into clean energy business faster than US-based Exxon and Chevron.
“I think this is an opportunity for a company like BP to show that we are in action towards a goal of net zero by 2050,” said JP, Fielder, spokesperson for BP America. Watkins of Shell said meeting the demand for reliable energy while tackling the climate “is a huge undertaking and one of the defining challenges of our time.”
Exxon spokesman Casey Norton said the company had made “substantial investments in next-generation technology” and “was pushing for responsible climate policies.”
Chevron did not comment.
Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Stephen Coates
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