Key board members at four oil companies were called to testify in February about the industry’s role in climate change and spreading “disinformation”, turning up the heat on big oil after legislators grilled their CEOs last year.
The US congressional hearing of officials from Exxon, Shell, Chevron and BP, scheduled for February 8, is the next phase of the House oversight committee’s ongoing 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 CEOs of oil majors, by issuing subpoenas for documents on what company scientists have said about climate change and any funds spent to mislead the public on global warming.
By turning its focus to board members who were elected to spur change at these companies on climate change, 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 said. “They will have to choose 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 activist hedge fund Engine No 1 to Exxon’s board to address growing investor concerns about global climate change.
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 a key governance role in addressing climate change “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 have announced net zero emission targets by 2050 and have claimed their plans are aligned with the goals of the 2015 Paris climate 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 so-called “scope three” emissions from consumers who buy their products.
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.