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At Hearing, Climate Experts Expose Inadequacies of Big Oil’s Climate Pledges

February 8, 2022

Washington, D.C. (February 8, 2022)— Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Ro Khanna, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment, held a hearing to examine whether climate pledges made by fossil fuel companies Exxon, Chevron, Shell, and BP are adequate to address global warming.

"The message is clear: Big Oil intends to continue its playbook from the past four decades, fighting meaningful action to prevent climate change while engaging in a PR campaign to deceive the public," said Chairwoman Maloney in her opening statement. "This Committee will not stand for it. We launched this investigation to get to the bottom of Big Oil's role in contributing to climate change, and we will get to the truth about these pledges."

The Committee heard testimony from Dr. Michael E. Mann, Professor of Atmospheric Science, The Pennsylvania State University; Mark van Baal, Founder, Follow This; Tracey Lewis, Policy Counsel, Public Citizen; and Katie Tubb, Senior Policy Analyst, Heritage Foundation.

Climate experts emphasized how fossil fuel climate pledges are part of the industry's "greenwashing" campaign of publicly supporting the Paris Agreement's climate goals while investing only a tiny fraction in renewable energy solutions.

  • When asked by Chairman Khannaabout the sufficiency of ExxonMobil's pledge that excludes downstream emissions from its products in its net-zero pledges, Dr. Mann emphasized that "it's like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It's not addressing the gorilla in the room."

  • Rep. Tlaib asked Mr. van Baal about BP's efforts to brand itself as an "integrated energy company." Mr. van Baal commented: "If you claim to be in an energy transition, you claim to pivot to other sources of energy ... then you would at least spend 50% of your investments in this new business model. These companies with their small amounts—which by the way are most of the time smaller than their marketing amounts—risk being the Kodaks of the 21st Century."

  • When questioned by Rep. Connolly on Big Oil's disinformation campaign, Ms. Lewis agreed that the fossil fuel companies are "the same as big tobacco; the goal here is to cause people to believe one thing while the companies are doing the exact opposite."

Witnesses laid out specific steps companies must take immediately to substantially reduce greenhouse emissions and reach net zero emissions by 2050 to avoid a climate catastrophe.

  • Mr. Van Baal stated: "Shareholders sent an unequivocal message: we need oil majors to cut emissions. However, Shell, BP, Chevron, and Exxon still intend to grow their emissions this decade, and they have no intentions to stop doing so." He also compared fossil fuel companies' tactics to the tobacco industry, adding: "With such goals, ExxonMobil is really like a tobacco company, which pledges to prohibit smoking in their factories, while continuing to produce and sell cigarettes."

  • In response to Rep. Connolly's question about what fossil fuel companies are currently doing to curb emissions, Dr. Mann stated: "My understanding is that they actually plan to continue to expand fossil fuel exploration in the years ahead. And that is actually fundamentally inconsistent with what the International Energy Agency, a pretty conservative body, has said that if we are to stabilize warming below catastrophic levels, there can be no new fossil fuel infrastructure."

Climate experts and Members made clear that, as a result of fossil fuel companies' actions, climate change is already happening, and its effects disproportionately harm low-income communities and communities of color.

  • Under questioning by Rep. Brown, Ms. Lewis stated that Big Oil's misleading pledges mean "increased death, poor health outcomes, cancer, and all types of diseases [that would] primarily affect low-income, minority, and marginalized communities."

  • In an exchange with Rep. Bush on Big Oil's prioritization of profits over Black lives, Ms. Lewis noted that fossil fuel plants "will never be built in the center of town, never be built in wealthy neighborhoods like on University in St. Louis. That won't happen. They are going to be in the underserved communities where Black and brown people live in urban areas, where indigenous people live, and will impact their health."

Climate experts made clear that dangerous climate change is already happening now, and fossil fuel companies must act urgently.

  • In response to Chairwoman Maloney's question on how much time we have in order to prevent a climate catastrophe, Dr. Mann answered: "We have zero time."

  • In an exchange with Rep. Raskin, Dr. Mann emphasized: "Dangerous climate change is here. If you're Puerto Rico, if you're California, if you're Australia, if you're my home state of Pennsylvania, with all that record flooding with Hurricane Ida. We are already seeing devastating consequences of climate change, and it will simply get worse and worse. The real danger is that we start to cross certain tipping points, where the damage that we do is irreversible on human time scales."

  • In response to a question from Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, Mr. Van Baal reiterated the need for Big Oil to act now, noting: "In the next ten years we will win or lose the fight against climate change."

Click here to watch the hearing.