Documents obtained by congressional investigators show that oil industry executives privately downplayed their own companies’ public messaging about efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and weakened industry-wide commitments to push climate policies. .
Internal Exxon documents show the oil giant lobbied an industry group, the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, to remove language from a 2019 policy statement that “could create a potential compromise to uphold the Agreement’s goals.” from Paris”. The Paris Agreement is the historic 2015 pact between the nations of the world to prevent catastrophic global warming. The declarations final version he did not mention Paris.
At Royal Dutch Shell in October 2020, an email sent by an employee, discussing talking points for Shell’s president for the United States, said that the company’s announcement of a path to “net zero” emissions, the point at which the world would no longer be pumping planet-warming gases into the atmosphere “has nothing to do with our business plans.”
These and other documents, reviewed by The New York Times, come from a cache of hundreds of thousands of pages of corporate emails, memos and other files obtained under subpoena as part of a House Oversight and Reform Committee examination. of Representatives on fossil fuel. The industry’s decades-long efforts to mislead the public about its role in climate change, dismissing evidence that burning fossil fuels was driving a rise in global temperatures, even as its own scientists warned of a clear link.
On Thursday, the House committee is expected to discuss some of its early findings. “It is well established that these companies actively misled the American public for decades about the risks of climate change,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat and chair of the Subcommittee on the Environment. “The problem is that they continue to cheat.”
At a hearing last year, oil industry executives emphasized their support for a clean energy transition and denied misleading the public. They acknowledged that burning their products was driving climate change, though neither pledged to end their financial support for efforts to block action on climate change, and said fossil fuels were here to stay.
The committee’s subpoena has sought documents related to the companies’ role in contributing to climate change, their climate marketing and lobbying efforts, and the funding of third parties accused of spreading climate misinformation. Several of the companies and organizations cited, including Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, the American Petroleum Institute and the US Chamber of Commerce, have yet to submit some of the key documents that have been requested, according to committee staff members.
According to staff, a significant portion of the material submitted so far includes news clippings and other material that was already public. Still, the documents collected so far show that internal discussions of companies in recent years have not always coincided with their public statements and marketing campaigns, and that some of the main climate strategies of companies are based on unproven technologies. .
In Exxon’s memo outlining the edits it was seeking in the oil industry’s policy statement, which was drafted ahead of the 2019 United Nations global climate talks, Peter Trelenberg, manager of environmental policy and planning at Exxon, wrote : “It is necessary to remove the reference to Paris. Agreement” of the statement because “Creating a link between our advocacy/commitments and the Paris Agreement could potentially create a commitment to advocating for the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
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The memo, addressed to Exxon CEO Darren Woods and other top executives, said Chevron had “expressed that they are generally aligned with these edits.”
Exxon and Chevron did not respond to requests for comment. A representative from the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative did not comment on the advocacy document, but said “advocacy for the Paris goals underpins everything the OGCI does.”
Separate Exxon files show the company grappling with a multimillion-dollar ad campaign touting the potential of fuels made from algae. The campaign focused on the promise of the technology and featured images of vast algae ponds, along with a female scientist who longed to call herself an “energy farmer.”
A set of pitch notes that one of his executives had prepared for an engineering talk in September 2018 indicated that the technology is “still decades away from the scale we need.” And in a November 2016 email, an Exxon employee said an early draft of the ad, prepared by advertising agency BBDO Worldwide, needed to “replace any lines that imply the technology is live today.”
BBDO did not respond to a request for comment.
Internal Shell documents discussing the company’s “net zero” path also included guidelines for employees that read: “Do not give the impression that Shell is willing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to levels that do not make sense.” commercial”.
Curtis Smith, a Shell spokesman, said in a statement that the company provided nearly half a million pages of documents to the committee and “the small handful they chose to highlight is evidence of Shell’s extensive aggressive targeting efforts.” Included in those documents are “challenging internal and external discussions,” he said.
He added that it was widely understood that Shell’s net-zero scenarios “are not prescriptions, predictions or intended to represent Shell’s current business plan” and instead represent “the scale of the challenge and the levers that policymakers could use”.
The committee’s work comes as the Democrats’ climate agenda has been reinvigorated with the passage of a climate and tax bill that includes nearly $370 billion in tax incentives and programs aimed at accelerating the nation’s transition from an economy based on oil, gas and coal. to one powered by wind, solar and other renewable forms of energy.
Several cities and states have oil companies from the South, claiming they misled the public about the role of fossil fuels in global warming, with detrimental effects on local communities. Last year, a Dutch court ruled that Shell must substantially speed up its efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Shell has appealed the ruling.
The House committee was scheduled to hold a hearing on thursday to examine the oil industry’s recent record profits, hear from industry experts and people affected by recent extreme weather events. He had also solicited the assistance of board members from oil companies. Businesses declined.
At Thursday’s hearing, members also plan to highlight emails that appear to show oil executives downplaying extreme heat weather records. In an August 2017 email exchange, for example, two BP executives found humor in the news at a time when scientists had reported the warmest year on record on Earth.
“I will buy the first round on Monday night before we say goodbye,” Joe Ellis, then a BP vice president and head of US government affairs, wrote to colleagues.
“A ‘hot toddy’ maybe?” Bob Stout, then vice president and head of regulatory affairs, responded.
The former BP executives did not respond to requests for comment.
JP Fielder, BP’s US communications chief, described the exchange as “witty attempts at humor that do not reflect BP’s values and should not distract from our actions.” He noted that BP has committed to a goal of net zero emissions from its sales, operations and production by 2050 or sooner.