Oil industry board members to testify to Congress on climate disinformation

A US congressional committee has invited board members at four large oil companies to testify in February about the industry’s role in the climate crisis and spreading “disinformation”, turning up the heat on big oil after lawmakers grilled their CEOs last year.

The hearing of officials from Exxon, Shell, Chevron and BP, scheduled for 8 February, is the next phase of the House oversight committee’s investigation into the role of fossil fuel companies in blocking action on climate change and misrepresenting the industry’s efforts to address it.

The panel had concluded the first of these hearings last October, which featured the oil company CEOs, by issuing subpoenas for documents on company scientists’ statements about the climate crisis and any funds spent to mislead the public on global heating.

By turning its focus to board members who were elected to spur change at these companies on the climate crisis, the committee plans to scrutinize corporate pledges to cut emissions and invest in cleaner sources of energy.

“These are board members who ran on changing these institutions from the inside,” chair of the oversight panel’s environment subcommittee, Ro Khanna, told Reuters. “They will have to chose between their life convictions or fealty to their CEOs.”

Among the board members selected to testify is Alexander Karsner, a strategist at Google owner Alphabet Inc who won one of three seats for the activist hedge fund Engine No 1 to Exxon’s board to address growing investor concerns about global warming.

The committee also sent a letter to Susan Avery, an atmospheric scientist and former president of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who was brought on to Exxon’s board in 2017 as a climate expert.

The letters said board members play an important governance role in addressing the climate crisis “by overseeing and guiding companies’ climate strategies, promoting transparency and holding management accountable to meaningful emissions reductions. Each of the four companies invited to the hearing has announced net zero emission targets by 2050 and have claimed that their plans are aligned with the goals of the Paris agreement.

The panel will focus on the fact that the companies’ net zero plans are mostly focused on their internal operations, not on the emissions released when consumers burn the fossil fuels they produce.

For example, Exxon earlier this week announced a net zero plan focused on its operations – not on “scope three” emissions from consumers who buy their products.

An Exxon spokesperson, Casey Norton, did not comment on the new hearing but said the company has “provided staff with more than 200,000 pages of documents, including board materials and internal communications”.

The board members were not immediately available for comment.

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