Big Oil CEOs Can’t Talk Their Way Out of Global Catastrophe

House Oversight Committee to Hold CEOs, US Chamber of Commerce, and API to Account for Decades of Misleading the Public

Smoke rising from an oil refinery in California.

iStock

The heads of four multinational oil companies—ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Shell—will appear before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to be questioned about decades of misstatements and misleading industry campaigns about climate change. The American Petroleum Institute (API) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will testify as well.

Climate change poses a profound threat to the earth and its people. Despite knowing about the threats fossil fuels posed, major oil companies fostered our dependence on them, acted to mislead the public and lawmakers about the threat, and blocked action to confront the problem.

In 1979 the National Academy of Scientists warned that a “wait-and-see” approach to carbon pollution from fossil fuels “may mean waiting until it is too late.” Despite such warnings, well known to Big Oil managers, these companies mounted a decades-long effort to block policies to transition to clean energy. 

ExxonMobil, along with other multinationals like Chevron, successfully lobbied to block legislation to reduce climate pollution, led by Congress members Henry Waxman and Ed Markey in 2010. Oil companies have also lobbied against strong rules to cut emissions from tailpipes and most recently revealed, in an undercover video filmed by Greenpeace UK, that it planned to work to preserve taxpayer handouts for drilling.

This opposition from Big Oil and others in the fossil fuel industry is a major reason why the United States and other nations across the globe haven’t reduced emissions sufficiently to stave off the worst impacts of global warming. It is long past time for this industry to stop deceiving the public. 

And it’s time for us to stop subsidizing them—literally helping them harm to us. The fossil fuel industry currently receives more than $20 billion a year in taxpayer handouts that incentivize dirty and dangerous drilling in communities across the country. This is an appalling waste of public money at a time when the United States needs to stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure, stop drilling on our public lands and in our public waters, and transition to clean energy.

These companies and their lobby groups must be held accountable for the harm they have caused—for dismissing the threat of global warming and dramatically increasing greenhouse gas emissions with full knowledge of the dangers posed by the delay they promoted. After decades of industry’s self-interested lies, countries all over the world are scrambling to stave off wildfires, catastrophic flooding, deadly heat, and dire drought. The worst impacts of climate change are all but here. Time for these guys to answer for their actions. 

About the Authors

Sujatha Bergen

Director, Health Campaigns, Health and Food Division

David Hawkins

Director, Climate Policy, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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