Oil Companies Under Fire From Congress & Scientists

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Last fall, executives from some of the largest oil companies were called on the carpet by members of the US House of Representatives, who wanted to know why the companies were continuing to deny that they have mislead the public for decades about the role Big Oil has played in creating a warmer planet. The executives basically told the representatives to go pound sand.

Now the House is gearing up for Round Two. In an email to CleanTechnica, the Center for Climate Integrity said the House Committee on Oversight and Reform has asked board members from ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP to testify at a February 8 hearing to “evaluate fossil fuel companies’ pledges to cut emissions and invest in cleaner sources of energy” as part of the committee’s “ongoing investigation into the role of the fossil fuel industry in preventing meaningful action on global warming, including through misrepresenting the scale of industry efforts to address the crisis.”

According to the Washington Post, the letters from the committee said, “The hearing is part of the Committee’s ongoing investigation into the role of the fossil fuel industry in preventing meaningful action on global warming, including through misrepresenting the scale of industry efforts to address the crisis.

“As worsening natural disasters linked to global warming devastate communities in the United States and globally, one of Congress’s top legislative priorities is combating the increasingly urgent crisis of a changing climate. To do this, Congress must address pollution caused by the fossil fuel industry and curb business practices that lead to delay and disinformation on these issues.”

Oil Companies & Denial

Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, said in an email, “Big Oil can no longer deny the reality and severity of climate change, so the companies now pretend to be part of the solution through phony ‘net zero’ pledges that distract from their continued pollution and lobbying to kill efforts that address the climate crisis, including parts of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan.

“The fossil fuel industry has spent decades lying about its primary role in driving the climate crisis. It’s critical that Congress holds these companies accountable and exposes the industry’s fake climate pledges for the fraud that they are. We applaud the Oversight Committee for working to expose Big Oil’s dishonesty and the damage it continues to cause.”

With great fanfare, last week ExxonMobil announced its “ambition” to reach “net zero” emissions in coming decades, but the company’s plan does not cover its so-called “scope 3 emissions.” You know, the crud that enters the atmosphere when oil and methane are burned. Nor does it account for emissions from non-operated assets. Together, those two categories of emissions account for as much as 90% of the total pollution attributable to Exxon’s business, according to an extensive study by Engine No. 1.

In the practice of law, attorneys have a phrase that goes like this: “When the law and the facts are against you, baffle ’em with bullshit.” That is precisely what Exxon and its cohorts are doing. Their argument is, “Hey, we just provide the oil. We don’t force people to use it.” How that differs from a drug pusher telling a court, “I only supply the cocaine. What people do with it is up to them,” is hard to understand.

Representative Ro Khanna of California, who chairs the House Oversight subcommittee on the environment, tells the Washington Post, “We have to look past the window dressing and really ask, what are these companies actually pledging in terms of getting to net zero? And how are they going to actually achieve that?” Excellent questions.

Scientists Demand End To Advertising For Oil Companies

Also last week, an open letter to advertising industry leaders signed by more than 450 scientists urged them to stop propping up oil companies with fancy and fanciful ads. The letter says:

“As scientists who study and communicate the realities of climate change, we are consistently faced with a major and needless challenge: overcoming advertising and PR efforts by fossil fuel companies that seek to obfuscate or downplay our data and the risks posed by the climate crisis. In fact, these misinformation campaigns represent one of the biggest barriers to the government action science shows is necessary to mitigate the ongoing climate emergency.

“The science could not be more clear: We must eliminate carbon pollution as soon as possible — nearly 50% this decade and fully by 2050. That requires an immediate and rapid transition away from all fossil fuels. Coal, oil, gas, and electricity companies must immediately, unreservedly, begin a transition to a zero carbon future.

“If PR and advertising agencies want to be part of climate solutions instead of continuing to exacerbate the climate emergency, they should drop all fossil fuel clients that plan to expand their production of oil and gas, end work with all fossil fuel companies and trade groups that perpetuate climate deception, cease all work that hinders climate legislation, and instead focus on uplifting the true climate solutions that are already available and must be rapidly implemented at scale.

“To put it simply, advertising and public relations campaigns for fossil fuels must stop.”

One of the top ad agencies for oil companies is Edelman. According to the Washington Post, its senior executives are wrestling with how to balance their need to feed their families with their obligation to the larger community to not to destroy the planet that sustains us all.

The company has recently completed a review of its clients and business practices. “I think we’re simply recognizing that this is the most important issue of the day and that clients, most clients, are going to want to do this,” Richard Edelman, the firm’s president and chief executive, said in an interview with the Washington Post.

Henk Campher joined Edelman in 2009 to advise companies on developing corporate responsibility strategies, but left in 2015 because of the company’s work for the American Petroleum Institute. “I do believe that extractive industry is going the way of tobacco, and for that same reason any [ad] agency who either claims ‘purpose’ or dabbles in sustainability will have to stop working with them. Like CVS did — you can’t sell tobacco and medicine at the same time,” he says.

“PR and ad firms are part of a web of influence, including law firms, lobbying organizations and think tanks,” said Christine Arena, who worked briefly for Edelman and later founded a small business called Generous Films. “They are all charged with maintaining the fossil fuel industry’s ability to operate.”

Lawyers Are Not Exempt From Responsibility For Their Actions

“The campaign targeting Edelman is one of many more to come, especially if ad agencies continue to ignore their crucial role in exacerbating the climate crisis,” Grecia Nuñez, a law student at American University and a member of Law Students for Climate Accountability, said in an email to the Washington Post.

Her group is also targeting several law firms, including Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, which has represented Chevron in a costly fight over oil waste left behind in Ecuador and over the Dakota Access pipeline in Montana. “Service providers such as ad agencies and law firms cannot claim neutrality when their business is to perpetuate climate change,” she said.

The Takeaway

The problem, which should be intuitively obvious to the most casual observer, is the total lack of ethics or morals in the world of commerce. Oil companies have billions of dollars to spend to protect their business model. It takes a person with a great deal of courage to say no to all that money, and so the marketplace is corrupted with ad execs, publishing companies, lawyers, judges, and members of Congress (but not grand jurors) who simply cannot say no to the allure of easy money and plenty of it.

Greed, despite what Gordon Gekko said, is not good. It is a corrosive that eats away at the fabric of society and endangers life for all in order to enrich a few. This is not a sustainable model, as society is about to find out in the most painful and permanent way possible.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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