"This Hearing Is the Start": Fossil Fuel Executives To Testify
Four top oil executives will appear before the House Oversight Committee this week in a landmark moment for environmental activists who have spent years calling for investigations of the industry.
Four top oil executives will appear before the House Oversight Committee on 28 October in a landmark moment for environmental activists who have spent years calling for investigations of the industry.
The witnesses, who are appearing voluntarily at the hearing and offering virtual testimony, are some of the biggest names in the industry. Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods, BP America CEO David Lawler, Chevron CEO Michael Wirth, and Shell Oil President Gretchen Watkins will testify alongside American Petroleum Institute President Mike Sommers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Suzanne Clark.
“What we hope to get out of it is to stop the funding through third-party groups of climate disinformation,” said Environment Subcommittee Chair Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who is leading the inquiry with full committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).
The committee said in a news release that the companies have not fully complied with the request for documents and communications that lawmakers sent last month. But Khanna said the panel has been “inundated with experts, researchers, third-party groups ever since we announced the hearing.”
“The documents we’re going to continue to pursue,” Khanna said in an interview. “But there is so much evidence that is of concern that they would be very hard-pressed to be evasive.”
The hearing marks a major moment in an investigation Khanna has been pursuing for months, in hopes of going after Big Oil the same way Congress targeted the tobacco industry in the 1990s.
Public attention was raised this summer when Greenpeace U.K. released a video showing Exxon lobbyist Keith McCoy discussing the company’s influence strategy with an activist he believed to be a headhunter from a Middle East energy fund.
McCoy has since parted ways with the company, but the sting video reverberated. The Oversight panel has sought closed-door testimony from the former Exxon lobbyist, and the incident got the company suspended from the Climate Leadership Council, a group that advocates carbon pricing with support from major businesses.
Notably, McCoy said in the video that Exxon supports a carbon tax as a "talking point" but does not really believe Congress would ever enact the policy. He also said Exxon funded "shadow groups" to cast doubt on climate science.
Khanna acknowledged that the committee is still pursuing an interview with McCoy, but he stressed that the hearing is only the beginning of his inquiry. “The important thing to realize is that this hearing is the start of the investigation, not the end, not the culmination, just like the tobacco hearings,” Khanna said.
Exxon, in particular, has been the subject of green groups’ ire over the years, given evidence its scientists knew about the risks of human-caused climate change for years, as the company publicly and privately tried to block efforts to address it.