The best executives in the oil industry have appeared before US lawmakers to face allegations of misleading the public about climate change.
Major producers have been questioned about the impact of the fossil fuels they profit from on their effects on the climate.
Democratic lawmakers have described the hearings as “historic” and hope they will help change the public view as with the tobacco industry in the 1990s.
The hearings, involving companies like BP and Shell, come days before the start of the UN’s COP26 climate conference.
President Joe Biden will fly to Glasgow for the meeting of world leaders, seen as a pivotal moment in the global fight against climate change.
Thursday’s hour-long hearing saw decades of political pressure and public statements from America’s largest energy companies put in the spotlight.
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CEOs of ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP America were among those who appeared remotely prior to the hearing of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee.
It’s the first time leading industry leaders have appeared together under oath in Congress and is part of a broad investigation that Democrats say will last a year.
“For too long, Big Oil has escaped responsibility for its central role in bringing our planet to the brink of a climate catastrophe,” said President Carolyn B Maloney in her testimony.
Questioning Exxon’s chief executive, Ms. Maloney insisted that there had been a “clear conflict” between what the company’s previous executives had publicly said and the reality of the company’s internal research.
He also said he intends to issue subpoenas to companies to persuade them to hand over internal documents.
A committee statement said the industry has known about the effects of global warming since 1977 but “for decades it has spread denial and doubt about the damage of its products”.
Chevron’s Michael Wirth denied that his company knowingly lied to the public.
“As our views on climate change have developed over time, any suggestion that Chevron is engaged in an effort to spread disinformation and mislead the public on these complex issues is simply wrong,” he said.
Darren Woods, CEO of Exxon, said his company has long recognized that climate change is real, but said there are “no easy answers” and insisted that “oil and gas will continue to be needed for the near future”.
Republicans have been resounding in their criticism of direct interrogations by their Democratic counterparts.
Arizona Republican Andy Biggs told CEOs they were “brought here so they can beat you to death.”
Rep James Comer said the hearing was meant to “offer partisan theater for prime time news” and said the committee should instead focus on “urgent concerns of American citizens.”
Republicans called Neal Crabtree, a welder who lost his job after the cancellation of a major pipeline by Biden, to testify about his family’s struggles to make ends meet.
Ms. Maloney, chairman of the panel, said at the end of Thursday’s hearing that the investigation must continue.
“I intend to sue the fossil fuel industry representatives here today,” he said, adding, “We are code red for the climate and I am committed to doing everything possible to help save this planet and save it for our people. sons. “
Democrats were keen to draw parallels with their investigation into climate disinformation and the House Big Tobacco investigation in the 1990s, which after months of testimony concluded that cigarette companies tried to hide evidence that their products they were addictive and harmful.
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