Watch an Exxon Lobbyist Explain How the Oil Giant Fights Climate Science

The oil company has long been accused of sowing climate doubt through lobbying and misinformation campaigns. Now, the company is caught on tape admitting to it.
July 1, 2021, 4:00pm
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Image: Getty Images

Exxon lobbyists admitted to fighting climate science, using shadow groups for lobbying and meeting weekly with Washington lawmakers to weaken environmental policy in Biden’s infrastructure plan in an undercover report published Wednesday by UK public broadcaster Channel 4 and Unearthed, the investigative news arm of Greenpeace UK.

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“Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes … Did we join some of these ‘shadow groups’ to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that’s true,” Keith McCoy, Washington, D.C.-based senior director of federal relations at Exxon told a reporter posed as a talent recruiter in May. 

“We were looking out for our investments,” he said. “We were looking out for our shareholders."

The article, Inside Exxon’s Playbook: How America’s biggest oil company continues to oppose action on climate change, details McCoy and fellow Exxon lobbyists’ role in influencing climate policies that take aim at regulating the fossil fuel industry, like carbon taxes, emissions targets, and most recently, the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Plan—the new bipartisan iteration of which now contains few of the ambitious climate investments the proposal once promised, like clean electricity standards and tax incentives for renewables. 

Exxon played an active role in pushing for the plan to be stripped down, McCoy told Unearthed in May. “We’re playing defence, because President Biden is talking about this big infrastructure package and he’s going to pay for it by increasing corporate taxes,” he said, noting that tax increases would cost Exxon close to $1 billion.

McCoy describes meeting with several senators on a regular basis to discuss these talking points, directly naming 11, including moderate democrats Joe Manchin (D - WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D - AZ) who’ve come under fire for supporting the stripped down bill.

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“Joe Manchin, I talk to his office every week. He is the kingmaker on this,” McCoy said, also listing Shelley Moore Capito (R - WV), John Tester (D - MT), Chris Coons (D - DE), Mark Kelly (D - AZ), Maggie Hassan (D - NH), and Marco Rubio (R - FL), some of whom are up for re-election in 2022, and are therefore a “captive audience” to lobbyists. “They know they need you and I need them,” McCoy said. 

The report’s findings are making waves across Washington, D.C. as record heat, drought, and flooding grip parts of the country. Ro Khanna (D - CA), Chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment announced his plans to ask Exxon to testify about the video on Twitter Wednesday evening, noting that the company has “prevent[ed] our collective action on the climate crisis.” 

“We're going to hold them accountable, so I highly suggest to their counsel and to them that they voluntarily comply,” Khanna told E&E News. “They should be under no illusion. We will subpoena if they are not cooperative, and I have spoken to a lot of people in leadership."

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Despite launching annual Earth Day campaigns, committing to the Paris Agreement and publicly supporting a carbon tax, Exxon has hid its knowledge of the role fossil fuel combustion played in climate change as early as the 1970s. A series of investigations published in 2015 by Inside Climate News, the Los Angeles Times, and the Columbia Journalism School blew the lid off the company’s own research into the climate crisis, which it subsequently obscured while investing millions in climate denial organizations like the Heritage Foundation. 

Exxon chairman and chief executive Darren Woods quickly condemned the comments McCoy and fellow lobbyist Dan Easley—who has since left the company—made to Unearthed in a statement released Wednesday, noting that neither have been involved in the company’s policy decisions.

“Comments made by the individuals 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,” Woods said. 

McCoy, too, quickly backpedaled on his comments in a LinkedIn post written shortly after the investigation was published.

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“I am deeply embarrassed by my comments and that I allowed myself to fall for Greenpeace’s deception,” he wrote. “While some of my comments were taken out of context, there is no excuse for what I said or how I said it.”