Jul 26, 2021 - Energy & Environment

House Oversight panel demands interview with top Exxon lobbyist over climate

Representative Ro Khanna of California.

Rep. Ro Khanna, (D-Calif.), seen on Capitol Hill on April 4, 2019. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The House Committee on Oversight on Monday requested an interview with ExxonMobil senior lobbyist Keith McCoy regarding the company's efforts "to mislead the global public" and Congress about fossil fuels' role in causing global warming.

Why it matters: The request for a transcribed interview on Aug. 9, sent Monday, comes after McCoy was caught on camera discussing the company's lobbying tactics. This is the most serious congressional action to date related to the widely reported videos in which McCoy spoke candidly and under false pretenses with representatives of the environmental group GreenpeaceUK.

The videos were aired by the British broadcaster Channel 4.

The big picture: In the letter to McCoy, Democratic Reps. Ro Khanna of California, who chairs the panel's Subcommittee on Environment, and Carolyn Maloney of New York, who leads the powerful full committee, point out several issues they want answers on from the senior director of Exxon's federal relations shop.

Details: The issues Maloney and Khanna express interest in include climate science and policy, as well as hazardous chemicals regulation and the company's view of lawmakers as fish that need to be "reeled in" via lobbying efforts.

  • First on their list is Exxon's history of funding think tanks and trade associations as part of a campaign to sow public doubt in climate science, despite the company's longstanding knowledge of how serious a threat global warming poses.
  • The letter to McCoy requesting the interview notes that McCoy can shed light on any ongoing disinformation efforts.
  • "Your statements raise serious concerns about your role in ongoing efforts by ExxonMobil and the fossil fuel industry to spread disinformation, including through the use of "shadow groups," in order to block action to address climate change," the lawmakers write.
  • On the tapes, McCoy and also discussed Exxon's role in producing substances containing polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as "forever chemicals," and characterized Exxon's support of a carbon tax as a ploy to appear to be favoring climate action when the company knows it most likely won't be adopted.
  • In the videos, McCoy told the Greenpeace activist who recorded the discussion that backing a carbon tax gives Exxon a "talking point," but that it's "not going to happen."

Catch up quick: McCoy has publicly apologized for his comments, and Exxon CEO Darren Woods took the unusual step of issuing an apology soon after they became news.

  • Exxon is the subject of litigation in multiple jurisdictions for knowing early on that its products posed the risk of contributing to global warming, and its strategic choice to fund think tanks and trade associations that worked to cast doubt about the reliability of the science.

What's next: The lawmakers gave McCoy until Friday to respond to their request, and the signature of the full committee chair on the letter indicates that a subpoena to provide testimony could follow a refusal to cooperate.

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