Ahead of a House Oversight Committee hearing on Big Oil’s central role in driving global climate chaos, congressional Democrats unveiled internal documents spotlighting the extent to which fossil fuel giants such as Chevron, Exxon, and Shell have worked to mislead the public about their contributions to the climate crisis and efforts to mitigate environmental damage.
“The committee’s investigation has shown that, rather than outright deny global warming, the fossil fuel industry has ‘greenwashed’ its record through deceptive advertising and climate pledges—without meaningfully reducing emissions,” Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) wrote in a memo released hours before Thursday’s hearing, which major Big Oil PR firms have refused to attend.
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As part of its yearlong probe into the industry’s public relations tactics, the panel uncovered documents confirming that oil and gas giants are “devoted to a long-term fossil fuel future,” despite their splashy vows to transform their businesses to meet critical climate goals.
“These revelations are the latest evidence that oil giants keep lying about their commitments to solve the climate crisis and should never be trusted.”
The committee, which subpoenaed oil and gas firms for internal documents related to their marketing campaigns, said in a summary that “Big Oil relies on accounting gimmicks, tricky language, and delay tactics to claim the mantle of climate leadership while continuing to be a primary cause of an ongoing climate catastrophe.”
“Despite BP previously rebranding itself as ‘Beyond Petroleum,’ internal documents highlighted how carbon capture and storage (CCS), one of the energy technologies touted by the company, could ‘enable the full use of fossil fuels across the energy transition and beyond,'” the House panel noted. “An internal Shell email discussing carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) warned an executive, ‘We want to be careful to not talk about CCUS as prolonging the life of oil, gas or fossil fuels writ large.'”
The committee obtained documents from 2019 showing that employees from Exxon and Chevron pushed to water down an oil and gas industry messaging document on the Paris climate accord, which both companies have publicly claimed to support.
“Creating a tie between our advocacy/engagements and the Paris Agreement could create a potential commitment to advocate on the Paris Agreement goals,” Peter Trelenberg, Exxon’s manager of environmental policy and planning, warned in a private memo to Exxon CEO Darren Woods.
Khanna, chair of the oversight panel’s Subcommittee on Environment, said in a statement Wednesday that “the documents I released today as part of my investigation into Big Oil’s efforts to deceive the American public about the climate crisis are explosive.”
“Internal emails and messaging guidance show that Big Oil’s climate pledges rely on unproven technology, accounting gimmicks, and misleading language to hide the reality,” said Khanna. “The documents also show a culture of intense disrespect towards leading climate activists like Bill McKibben and influential climate groups like the Sunrise Movement.”
One email obtained and released by the House Oversight Committee shows BP communications official Tom Wolf mocking an op-ed by McKibben, a renowned environmentalist and co-founder of 350.org.
“I’m sorry, I live on earth so I don’t get what planet this guy lives on,” Wolf wrote.
In response, Khanna said that “Big Oil executives are laughing at the people trying to protect our planet while they knowingly work to destroy it.”
Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, said that “these revelations are the latest evidence that oil giants keep lying about their commitments to solve the climate crisis and should never be trusted by policymakers.”
“First, their own documents showed that oil and gas companies lied about their product’s role in causing climate change,” said Wiles. “Now, more internal documents reveal that they are lying about their commitment to solving it. If there is one thing consistent about the oil and gas majors’ position on climate, it’s their utter inability to tell the truth.”
“As Americans pay the price for deadlier and costlier climate disasters, it’s outrageous that board members from the companies fueling the climate crisis and making record profits refused to attend a hearing to answer questions from members of Congress,” Wiles added. “We applaud the House Oversight Committee for its continued work to hold oil and gas corporations accountable for their climate deception.”