Support For Carbon Tax A Smokescreen

Many oil producers have been bragging about their support for climate science and a carbon tax, but the reality is very different. The industry has been a leading suppressor of climate science. An industry lobbyist claims that supposed support for a carbon tax is a ruse.

An oil industry lobbyist recently explained how one of the world’s largest polluters exerts power and influence to block and dilute legislation that can reduce carbon emissions in the United States. Keith McCoy, an in-house lobbyist for ExxonMobil, recently unveiled the company’s public affairs strategy to greenwash itself, while blocking progress on climate action.

The explosive footage was obtained by Unearthed, Greenpeace UK’s investigative unit. The investigators posed as professional recruiters who needed lobbying services for a client. Two of ExxonMobil’s most senior Washington, DC lobbyists took the bait and bragged about their smoke-and-mirrors campaign. The recording reveals the stealth approach that allows ExxonMobil to publicly support climate action, while fighting against policy solutions.

The investigators interviewed Mr. McCoy through Zoom. During the covert recordings, McCoy claims that the company secretly opposes legislative action on climate change by using third-party organizations. For example, he lobbied key senators to remove and/or diminish climate change measures from President Biden’s infrastructure and jobs bill.

The Zoom meeting took place on May 7. Investigators asked McCoy questions about ExxonMobil’s current and historical lobbying on environmental issues. McCoy claims that ExxonMobil has aggressively fought science to deny climate change in order to maximize profits for shareholders. He claims that ExxonMobil joined shadow groups to promote climate change denial.

“Did we aggressively fight against some of the science?” McCoy asked rhetorically. “Yes. Did we hide our science? No. Did we join some of these shadow groups to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that’s true. But there’s nothing illegal about that. We were looking out for our investments. We were looking out for our shareholders.”

McCoy compares lobbying to fishing. He claims that ExxonMobil puts out “bait” and then “reels in” congressmen on pet issues such as carbon tax, electric vehicles, chemicals, taxation and infrastructure.

“I get them the right information so they look good, while helping me,” McCoy said. “They need me and I need them to either introduce this bill, make a floor statement, send a letter. You name it, we’ve asked for everything.”

McCoy names 11 senators who are “crucial” to ExxonMobil:

Senator Shelley Moore Capito,

Senator Joe Manchin,

Senator Kyrsten Sinema,

Senator Jon Tester,

Senator Maggie Hassan,

Senator John Barrasso,

Senator John Cornyn,

Senator Steve Daines,

Senator Chris Coons,

Senator Mark Kelly, and

Senator Marco Rubio.

All except two of these senators (Hassan and Kelly) have received financial contributions from ExxonMobil. McCoy described Senator Joe Manchin as the Kingmaker. Manchin received at least $12,500 from the ExxonMobil Political Action Committee since 2011. He says a “big piece of [his] job is education and advocacy.” He argues that US government programs to roll out electric vehicles are unrealistic.

“The research and development conversation has taken us a long way because of climate change,” he said. “There is a struggle to find solutions and to get the reductions that they’re looking for. And you’re not going to be able to just switch to battery-operated vehicles or wind for your electricity. And just having that conversation around why that’s not possible in the next 10 years is critically important to the work that we do.”

McCoy described a lobbying strategy in which he claims ExxonMobil uses third parties to mask its interests from public view and accountability.

 “We don’t want it to be us, to have these conversations, especially in a hearing,” he said. “It’s getting our associations to step in and have those conversations and answer those tough questions and be for, the lack of a better term, the whipping boy for some of these members of congress. There was something we were working on earlier this week where we, where our CEO was invited to a hearing from a member of congress who we know is just going to rip him to shreds when he goes there. So, we look at it and we say: well, why us?”

McCoy claims that ExxonMobil lobbied Congress to dilute the climate provisions of President Biden’s Infrastructure Bill.

“That’s a completely different conversation when you start to stick to roads and bridges,” he said. “Instead of a $2 trillion bill, it’s an $800 billion dollar bill. If you lower that threshold, you stick to highways and bridges then a lot of the negative stuff starts to come out. Why would you put in something on emissions reductions on climate change to oil refineries in a highway bill? So, people say yeah that doesn’t make any sense, so then you get to the germane of saying that shouldn’t be in this bill.”

McCoy appears to suggest that ExxonMobil’s public support for a carbon tax is underpinned by the belief that it will never happen. Therefore, ExxonMobil and other producers can support a tax that will never pass Congress.

“There is not an appetite for a carbon tax,” he said. “Nobody is going to propose a tax on all Americans. And the cynical side of me says yeah we kind of know that. But it gives us a talking point. We can say well what is ExxonMobil for? Well we’re for a carbon tax. Carbon tax is not going to happen. I have always said, and I’ve worked on climate change issues for twenty years. There’s a lot of talk around it and the bottom line is it’s going to take political courage, political will in order to get something done. And that just doesn’t exist in politics.”

Purporting to speak on behalf of ExxonMobil, McCoy also expressed a corporate view that, contrary to science, natural gas is a clean energy source. (Not when you account for the environmental impact associated with production.)

fracking and public health

“On a clean electricity standard, we think natural gas will play a key role,” he said. “Not just as a bridge fuel. We think it is a low emission energy source and should be part of a clean electricity standard.”

A spokesperson for ExxonMobil told Channel 4 News in London:

“Greenpeace has waged a multi-decade campaign against our company and industry, which has included false claims and unlawful actions at our facilities as well as those of other companies around the world. Our lobbying efforts are related to a tax burden that could disadvantage U.S. businesses, and we have made that position known publicly. ExxonMobil stands by our position that increased taxes on American businesses make the U.S. less competitive. We have been clear in supporting an efficient, economy-wide price on carbon as the best way to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. While there is not broad support for a tax, we are actively and publicly discussing other options, including lower-carbon fuels and other sector-based approaches that would place a uniform, predictable cost on carbon. We have supported climate science for decades. Greenpeace and others have distorted our position on climate science and our support for effective policy solutions. ExxonMobil transparently engages with a variety of trade associations, think tanks and coalitions in order to promote informed dialogue and sound public policy in areas pertinent to the Corporation’s interests. ExxonMobil exercises its right to engage in lobbying in the United States at both the Federal and State levels to advocate our positions on issues that affect our Corporation and the energy industry. We have a responsibility to our customers, employees, communities and shareholders to represent their interests in public policy discussions that impact our business.”

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Exxon made the news in September and October of 2015 when research produced by InsideClimate News, the Los Angeles Times, and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism revealed that Exxon had known about the causes of climate change and the dangers climate disruption poses since the 1970s.

In 1978, James Black, working for Exxon’s Products Research Division, writes an internal briefing paper called The Greenhouse Effect following a 1977 presentation to Exxon’s management committee. The paper warns that human-caused emissions could raise global temperatures and result in serious consequences. “Present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical,” Black writes in his summary of the presentation.

In 1979, fossil fuel companies, including Exxon, Mobil, Amoco, Phillips, Texaco, Shell, Sunoco, Sohio and Standard Oil of California and Gulf Oil (two companies that became Chevron) meet regularly as part of a task force to discuss the science and implications of climate change. The meetings were organized by the American Petroleum Institute.

In 1982, Roger Cohen, director of the Theoretical and Mathematical Sciences Laboratory at Exxon, writes a memo summarizing Exxon’s climate modeling research.

“The consensus is that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 from its pre-industrial revolution value would result in an average global temperature rise of (3.0 ± 1.5)°C [equal to 5.4 ± 1.7°F],”Cohen said. “There is unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the earth’s climate, including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere.”

wildfires in the American West

In 1989, Shell announces that it will raise one of its natural gas platforms a meter or two to account for sea level rises caused by global warming and climate change. That same year, the fossil fuel companies created the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) to oppose mandatory reductions in carbon emissions by obscuring the science regarding fossil fuels’ impact on the atmosphere. The GCC created a scientific “backgrounder” for lawmakers and journalists that claimed “The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood.”

In November 2015, the New York state attorney general announced an investigation into Exxon for disclosure violations. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders called for a federal investigation into the company. And more than 350,000 Americans joined that call, petitioning the Department of Justice to investigate.

Read more about Exxon’s climate denial work thanks to Greenpeace

The carbon conversation is heating up on Capitol Hill just weeks before the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November. Democratic Congress member Ro Khanna, Chair of the House Oversight Subcommittee on the Environment, will ask the CEOs of Exxon and other oil producers to testify before the committee about their role in blocking congressional action regarding the climate crisis.

“Is anybody still surprised at what Exxon is doing?” said Charlie Kronick, Senior Climate Advisor, Greenpeace UK. “The reality is that almost nothing has changed in the Exxon playbook. This is the ongoing activity of a company that’s been trying to slow down progress on climate change for decades. They were gloating about slowing down progress on the biggest challenge that we’re facing as a country, as a generation, as a world. Kronick pointed out that both lobbyists were comfortable using front groups. They were comfortable hiding behind think tanks that would support these policies.”

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