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House panel presses oil executives on climate disinformation

Chief executives of Exxon Mobil, Chevron and other so-called oil supermajors intentionally misled the public over the links between their products and climate change, Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee said at a hearing Thursday.

“Big oil has known the truth about climate change for decades,” Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., said in her opening remarks. “In the 1970s and ’80s, Exxon’s own scientists privately told top executives that burning fossil fuel was changing the global climate.”

The heads of the U.S.-based subsidiaries BP America and Shell Oil as well as the presidents of the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also testified.

Mahoney and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ro Khanna, D-Calif., compared the hearing to one in 1994 during which U.S. tobacco company executives testified under oath that they didn’t believe nicotine was addictive.

“Today, the CEOs of the largest oil companies in the world have a choice,” Khanna said. “You can either come clean, admit your past misrepresentations and ongoing inconsistencies and stop supporting climate disinformation, or you can sit there in front of the American public and lie under oath.”

In their opening statements, the executives touted efforts their companies have made to reduce emissions, such as supporting carbon capture technology and investments in low-carbon forms of energy. Fossil fuels will remain an important energy source in coming decades, they said, and demand may increase in the short term.

Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., characterized these efforts as greenwashing. Using glasses filled with M&Ms to demonstrate, she noted that Shell Oil’s planned investment in renewable energy, $2 to $3 billion this year, was far outpaced by the plan to spend $19 to $22 billion in the near term on fossil fuel exploration.

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