The chairman of a House subcommittee is demanding that executives of Exxon Mobil Corp., Shell, Chevron and other major oil and gas companies testify before Congress about the industry’s decades-long effort to wage disinformation campaigns around climate change.
Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, said Friday he was prepared to use subpoena power to compel the companies to appear before lawmakers if they don’t do so voluntarily.
The move comes a day after a secretive video recording was made public in which a senior Exxon lobbyist said the energy giant had fought climate science through “shadow groups” and had targeted influential senators in an effort to weaken President Biden’s climate agenda. Several of those senators said this week that the lobbyist exaggerated their relationship or that they had no dealings with him.
“The video was appalling,” Mr. Khanna said in an interview on Friday. He called it the latest evidence of the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to “engage in climate denialism and to manipulate public opinion and to exert undue influence in shaping policy in Congress.”
Mr. Khanna said the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on the Environment, which he chairs, will issue letters next week to top executives at Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron and other oil and gas companies and trade groups demanding documents and testimony. One major target of the panel’s inquiry are dark money groups that have been funded by fossil fuel companies to disseminate falsehoods about climate science and policy solutions. The hearing is expected to be held in the fall.
Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, the New York Democrat who chairs the Oversight Committee, said she was “very concerned by the new video evidence showing how Exxon knowingly tried to block action to address climate change” and said she intended to “hold Exxon and other companies accountable.” Only Ms. Maloney, as chair of the full committee, is authorized to issue a subpoena.
So far, Mr. Khanna said, oil and gas executives have resisted requests to appear before Congress, unlike representatives from other industries. “I find it mind boggling, honestly. Tech CEOs from my district have showed up. Wall Street executives showed up many times to Congress. Pharmaceutical executives,” he said. “We fully plan to issue subpoenas if they don’t come voluntarily.”
Officials with Exxon Mobil and the other major oil companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday. Keith McCoy, the Exxon lobbyist in the video, has not responded to several requests for comment.
After the video recordings became public on Thursday, Darren Woods, Exxon’s chief executive, released a statement that said Mr. McCoy’s remarks “in no way represent the company’s position on a variety of issues, including climate policy, and our firm commitment that carbon pricing is important to addressing climate change.”
The video was filmed in a sting operation by the environmental group Greenpeace UK, which set up a sham recruitment interview with Mr. McCoy, Exxon’s senior director of federal relations. In the video, Mr. McCoy describes how the company targeted a number of influential senators with the aim of scaling back the climate provisions in President Biden’s sweeping infrastructure bill by attacking the tax increases that would pay for it. A bipartisan package that Mr. Biden agreed to now leaves out many of the ideas the president initially had proposed to reduce the burning of fossil fuels, which is the main driver of climate change.
Mr. McCoy also said on the recording that Exxon’s support for a tax on carbon dioxide was “a great talking point” for the oil company, but that he believes the tax will never happen. A carbon tax is a fee on the carbon content of fossil fuels meant to discourage emissions by making goods that are more polluting to manufacture more expensive. Carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels trap the sun’s heat and are a major contributor to climate change.
He also said on the recording that the company has in the past aggressively fought climate science through “shadow groups.”
Asked who was crucial to Exxon’s efforts, Mr. McCoy singled out Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and said the company was in touch with his office weekly because “he’s not shy about staking his claim early and completely changing the debate.” Mr. McCoy also said Exxon lobbyists “look for the moderates” among Democrats and identified senators such as Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly of Arizona, Jon Tester of Montana, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Chris Coons of Delaware as targets of their outreach.
Mr. Manchin’s spokesman said that Mr. McCoy had “greatly exaggerated his relationship and influence” with the senator’s staff and that Mr. Manchin typically meets with a broad range of people.
Aides to the other Democratic lawmakers said the senators never met with Mr. McCoy or any Exxon officials around the infrastructure negotiations. Senators Coons and Hassan also both said in statements that they support President Biden’s efforts to enact climate legislation.