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Congress says Big Oil has more questions to answer | Bradon's Barometer

The House Oversight Committee already talked to CEOs of four oil and gas companies in October.
Credit: WPMT FOX43

In an announcement at the end of last week, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform continues its investigation into what role fossil fuel companies played in misinformation on climate change. 

Now, reports suggest the committee is ready to talk about the industry commitment to reducing the impact of global warming.

In October, the committee grilled the leaders of ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and BP America on their respective companies' policies on and knowledge of climate change through the decades. That hearing played a large part in our Climate Smart special, 'Crisis in Communication.'

Of course, evidence and general thought of climate change's existence takes us as far back as 1824, when French physicist Joseph Fourier discovered the greenhouse effect. Its roots in the 19th Century, carbon dioxide's role in warming Earth's temperature traces through the 1800s, well before Jim Hansen's landmark testimony to Congress in 1988.

RELATED: A brief history of climate change communication | Climate Smart Part 1

However, those notions of climate change through even the 1950s had yet to really take hold in the scientific community. However, by the 1960s, attitudes changed. Memos uncovered from former president Lyndon B. Johnson's administration show that science advisers to the president warned of 'climatic affects of pollution' in November 1965. Scientists at Stanford University wrote to the American Petroleum Institute - a lobbying group of the oil and gas industry - warning them of the effects of fossil fuel pollution in 1968. 

But, it's the internal memorandum from ExxonMobil's own scientist, James Black, that the committee used as hard proof of the first real attempts of a climate change misinformation campaign. 

Credit: House Oversight and Reform Committee
Internal memo from Exxon scientists James Black in 1978.

In 1978, Black wrote, "there is a general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels." 

The oversight committee further noted alleged misinformation in 1996 and 1997 by then-Exxon CEO Lee Raymond. The executive stated scientific evidence was "inconclusive" and the case for global warming was "far from airtight."

Exxon was not the only company aware of the issue. BP America CEO David Lawler said the company was aware of scientific evidence in the 1980s.

The issue at hand from the first hearing lies not just in the alleged misinformation campaigns by the respective companies and the API, but by lobbying goals as well. 

In the last ten years, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP America and the API have lobbied Congress nearly 5,000 times. In those efforts, they have attempted to further their climate change pledges less than 1% of the time as of November 2021.

And the lobbying of the industry as a whole continues to this day. 

As of December 2021, the oil and gas industry's top lobbying target of the year was Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia). Manchin continues to serve as the primary blockade of advancing climate change litigation as part of President Biden's Build Back Better initiative. 

The industry spent more than $500,000 for lobbying targeting Manchin, more than three times as much as any other member of Congress. In the election cycle prior, Manchin didn't even crack the top 20.

RELATED: Spending bill stalls, making Biden's climate goals uncertain

RELATED: Manchin rejects Biden's Build Back Better Act, another vote possible in 2022

All of this comes on the heels of one of the worst years for weather disasters in history. Last year ranked third in total cost of weather disasters across the country, amounting to $145 billion. In the last three years, there have been 56 billion-dollar disasters. Compared that to 53 in the entire decade of the 1990s.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ties the majority of the damage to tropical cyclone-related disasters. That ties in to the warming temperature of the oceans blog from last week as well.

RELATED: The impact of a warming ocean, even decades after stopping pollution cold turkey | Bradon's Barometer

The next hearing of the Oversight and Reform Committee involving the Big Oil CEOs was requested to take place in February. At the time of this writing, it has been yet unstated whether they will return to speak, or if the committee will subpoena there presence. 

Until next time,

-Chief Meteorologist Bradon Long

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