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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Top executives from ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell will face a reckoning on Capitol Hill Thursday, as they're grilled on evidence that their companies knew for years that their products were driving climate change but chose to downplay or deny it.

Why it matters: The hearing before the House Oversight Committee will be the first time these executives have been brought together to provide sworn testimony regarding what they knew about the ties between their company's products and climate change, and when they knew it.

  • Lawmakers want to know whether and to what extent these top officials and their colleagues sought to mislead the public about the existence and severity of human-caused climate change, such as by funding groups that promoted climate denial.

The big picture: Reporting by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, as well as work by academics, has shown that major oil and gas companies knew decades ago that burning their products for energy could cause harmful effects to the climate — but many of them funded campaigns to downplay or flat-out deny these risks.

What we're watching: Oversight Committee chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who heads the panel's environment subcommittee, have both compared this week's hearing to the famous 1994 tobacco hearings.

  • Khana said on a call with progressive activists this week that Thursday's hearing would be "just the beginning" of an investigation into oil and gas firms' internal research, public advocacy and lobbying campaigns. He plans to investigate these companies for at least the next year.

The intrigue: It's unclear how many new revelations will turn up at the hearings, as Khanna has repeatedly said that companies have not been cooperating with the committee's document requests.

The other side: Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said the company is working with the committee to produce the requested information.

  • "We’re working hard to provide the Committee with materials and look forward to answering their questions," he told Axios via email.
  • Casey Norton, a spokesman for ExxonMobil, stated: "We have been in communication with committee staff for months and have cooperated with the request for documents."
  • "ExxonMobil has long acknowledged that climate change is real and poses serious risks," Norton said in an email. "Our public statements about climate change are, and have been, truthful, fact-based, transparent, and consistent with the views of the broader, mainstream scientific community at the time."

The bottom line: "I think after you have these hearings, it's going to be very difficult to justify subsidizing companies that are blatantly misleading the American public, blatantly deceiving the American public about their commitment to tackling the climate crisis," Khanna said.

Go deeper

Poll: 52% of Americans say they've experienced effects of global warming

Expand chart
Data: "Climate Change in the American Mind;" Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

According to new results from a national poll from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, a record high of seven-in-10 Americans said they are at least "somewhat worried" about global warming. This beats out the findings from the same question dating back to 2008.

Why it matters: Americans are increasingly perceiving climate change as a current danger affecting them personally, a development that could shift attitudes toward federal policy.

1 hour ago - World

Scoop: Iran preparing to enrich weapons-grade uranium, Israel warns U.S.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference. Photo: Presidency of Iran handout via Getty

Israel has shared intelligence over the past two weeks with the U.S. and several European allies suggesting that Iran is taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity — the level needed to produce a nuclear weapon, two U.S. sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: Enriching to 90% would bring Iran closer than ever to the nuclear threshold. The Israeli warnings come as nuclear talks resume in Vienna, with Iran returning to the negotiating table on Monday after a five-month hiatus.

Biden: Fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns"

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Monday said that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, is "a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

Driving the news: Biden said later this week the administration will be releasing a strategy on how "we're going to fight COVID this winter. Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more."