Jul 2, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Exxon boss tries to make amends for covert lobbyist tapes

Picture of Darren Woods
Exxon CEO Darren Woods. Photo: Justin Chin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Exxon CEO Darren Woods on Friday released his second statement in three days on two lobbyists' covertly recorded comments, another sign of how concern about them has reached the highest levels of the powerful oil giant.

Driving the news: The statement says Exxon is committed to addressing climate change, citing the recent creation of its “Low Carbon Solutions” unit that’s focused on carbon capture tech and hydrogen.

  • It also says that while Exxon backs a carbon tax, it is "actively and publicly discussing other options, including lower-carbon fuels and other sector-based approaches that would place a uniform, predictable cost on carbon."

Catch up fast: One of lobbyist Keith McCoy’s comments — made on a covert recording by a Greenpeace activist posing as a corporate recruiter — compares lobbying to reeling in lawmakers like fish.

  • Elsewhere, he said Exxon knew when advocating for a carbon tax that it was highly unlikely one would be enacted, but that it gives Exxon a "talking point."

What's new: On Thursday Greenpeace released more information from its interview with McCoy.

  • The Hill reports: "A lobbyist for ExxonMobil said that it pushed trade groups to be at the forefront on an issue dealing with a class of toxic chemicals, saying in recordings taken by undercover activists that he didn’t want the company tied to those chemicals."

Woods’ new comment states: "We have great respect for policy makers, elected officials and organizations across the political spectrum who are grappling to effectively address climate change, one of the greatest challenges of our time."

Charting Exxon's influence spending
Data: Lobbying Disclosure Act filings; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Lobbying Disclosure Act filings; Chart: Axios Visuals

The recorded comments by Greenpeace — which on Wednesday brought the first public apology and disavowal from Woods — are a window into Exxon's lobbying strategy.

By the numbers: The chart above shows the oil giant's quarterly lobbying over the last five years.

  • While it's millions of dollars for the company that employs many in-house and outside lobbyists, the amounts are lower than some other periods.
  • For instance, the quarterly totals exceeded $9 million in Q3 of 2008 and Q1 of 2009, Lobbying Disclosure Act records show.

What we're watching: The fallout. Environmental activists are using McCoy's remarks about Exxon's influence on infrastructure legislation to call for aggressive climate measures.

  • Meanwhile, Bloomberg columnist Liam Denning writes that Exxon could face problems convincing already skeptical investors that it's well-positioned on climate.
  • "What exactly is [CEO Darren] Woods going to say about that shiny new low-carbon business on the next conference call (or to its employees)? ESG-minded investors won’t likely be impressed by the spectacle of lobbyists smirking as they openly confirm everything already suspected about Exxon’s climate aspirations."

Go deeper: Exxon lobbyists' unfiltered climate remarks caught on video by Greenpeace

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