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U.S. House panel turns to oil majors' boards in next climate probe

Published 01/21/2022, 06:07 AM
Updated 01/21/2022, 08:56 AM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view of the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S., May 15, 2021. Picture taken May 15, 2021. REUTERS/Kathleen Flynn/File Photo
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By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. congressional committee has invited board members at four oil majors to testify about the industry's role in climate change and spreading "disinformation," turning up the heat after lawmakers grilled CEOs last year.

The hearing of officials from Exxon (NYSE:XOM), Shell (LON:RDSa), Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and BP (NYSE:BP) who were elected to spur change at these companies over environmental issues is scheduled for Feb. 8.

It is the next phase of a House oversight committee 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 concluded the first of these hearings last year featuring the CEOS of oil majors by issuing subpoenas https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/us-congress-puts-big-oil-hot-seat-climate-deception-probe-2021-10-28 for documents on what company scientists have said about climate change and any funds spent to mislead the public on global warming.

"We’ve only begun our investigation into the fossil fuel industry’s role in causing the climate crisis and spreading disinformation," panel chair U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney said in a statement on Friday.

By turning its sights on on climate change-focused board members, the committee plans to scrutinize corporate pledges to cut emissions and invest in cleaner energy sources.

"These are board members who ran on changing these institutions from the inside," chair of the oversight panel's environment subcommittee Ro Khanna told Reuters. "They will have to chose between their life convictions or fealty to their CEOs."

Among the board members selected to testify include Alexander Karsner, https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/engine-no-1-win-third-seat-exxon-board-based-preliminary-results-2021-06-02 a strategist at Google owner Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Inc who took one of three seats for activist hedge fund Engine No. 1 on Exxon's board to address growing investor concerns about global warming.

The committee also sent a letter to Susan Avery, an atmospheric scientist and former president of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and brought on to Exxon's board as a climate expert in 2017.

The letters said board members play a key role in holding management accountable to meaningful emissions reductions.

Each of the four companies invited have announced net zero emission targets by 2050 and said their plans are aligned with the goals of the Paris 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 fuels they produce.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view of the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S., May 15, 2021. Picture taken May 15, 2021. REUTERS/Kathleen Flynn/File Photo

Exxon spokesperson Casey Norton did not comment on the new hearing but said the company has "provided (committee) staff with more than 200,000 pages of documents, including board materials and internal communications."

The board members were not immediately available for comment.

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