May 18, 2016

Time to Wake Up: ExxonMobil’s Scramble to Contain Climate Crusade

This is the 137th time that I have addressed this body, asking us to wake up to the threat of climate change. While we sleepwalk, our atmosphere and oceans continue to suffer the damage caused by carbon pollution. As we do nothing, more and more Americans demand action. Look at the new findings from Yale and George Mason Universities. Despite years of industry climate denial propaganda:

  • 75 percent of all registered voters–88 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of Independents, and 61 percent of Republicans–support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
  • 74 percent of registered voters–88 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Independents, and 56 percent of Republicans–say corporations and industry should do more to address global warming.
  • 68 percent of all registered voters–86 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Independents, and 47 percent even of Republicans–believe fossil fuel companies should be required to pay a carbon tax and the money should be used to reduce other taxes, such as income taxes, by an equal amount.

So why does this Chamber sit idly by and not even have that conversation? Take the fossil fuel industry. For years Big Oil and its allies funded outright denial of man-made climate change. Now they have shifted strategies, from denial to dissembling–saying one thing but doing another.

Take ExxonMobil.

In 2007, the oil giant committed to stop funding the front groups that promote science denial. Here is what they said:

In 2008, we will discontinue contributions to several public policy research groups whose positions on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner.

This sounds like a step toward responsible corporate behavior. A casual reader might believe that ExxonMobil would in fact stop funding groups with anti-scientific climate positions.

One might think that, but one would be wrong.

According to publicly available company documents, in 2014, ExxonMobil funded several organizations that promote climate science disinformation, including:

  • The American Legislative Exchange Council, which peddled legislation to State legislatures that include a finding that human-induced global warming “may lead to ….. possibly beneficial climactic changes.”
  • The Hoover Institution, whose senior fellow is not a climate scientist, argued that climate data since 1880 supports a conclusion that it would take as long as long as 500 years to reach 4 degrees centigrade of global warming
  • The Manhattan Institute of Policy Research, where a senior fellow writing about climate change said: “The science is not settled, not by a long shot. ….. Furthermore, even if we accept that carbon dioxide is bad, it’s not clear exactly what we should do about it.”
  • The so-called National Black Chamber of Commerce, whose President and CEO, Harry Alford, played the debunked denier card, that “there has been no global warming detected for the last 18 years. That is over 216 months in a row that there has been no detected global warming.” (By the way, NASA just reported that April was the hottest April ever recorded, just like every one of the past 7 months was the hottest ever recorded for that month.)
  • Let’s not forget our friends at the Pacific Legal Foundation, whose senior attorney attacked EPA’s authority to even regulate CO2, in part, because it is a “ubiquitous natural substance essential to life on Earth.”

Saying one thing and doing another–ExxonMobil is publicly saying it is separated from the climate denial outfits, but it is still subsidizing their work to undermine public understanding of climate change. This doesn’t even count whatever they may be doing behind the dark money curtain that wretched Citizens United decision gave them.

The hypocrisy turns even worse in fossil fuel industry lobbying. An ExxonMobil executive recently stated:

When governments are considering policy options, ExxonMobil believes a revenue-neutral carbon tax is the most effective way to manage carbon emissions.

I have a revenue-neutral carbon tax bill, along with Senator Schatz, and I can assure this body that ExxonMobil is not lobbying in support of it. Every Member of Congress knows that all the massive political infrastructure of the fossil fuel industry is adamantly opposed to any meaningful action.

Shell Oil issued a report just last week that states:

Economy-wide carbon pricing–whether through carbon trading, carbon taxes or mandated carbon-emissions standards–provides an efficient and cost-effective way of aligning incentives and motivating action across the economy to reduce carbon emissions.

Top executives of six large European oil and gas companies, including Shell, BP and Statoil, issued a joint letter calling on governments “to introduce carbon pricing systems where they do not yet exist at the national or regional levels.” “[W]e and our senior staff will seek to engage and share our companies’ perspectives on the role of carbon pricing in several important settings,” which includes “in our meetings with Ministers and government representatives.”

I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the letter at the conclusion of my remarks.

The question is, has any Member of the Senate ever seen Shell or BP or Statoil or any other oil and gas company or any of their lobbying entities even once lobby Members of Congress on carbon pricing–other than, of course, to say, “hell, no?”

My bill with Senator Schatz, the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act, provides a market-based, revenue-neutral carbon fee–just like these companies say they support. It is built on principles espoused by leading Republican economists and by Republican former officeholders.

Despite the industry’s claims, I have seen exactly zero evidence that any of these companies–or their sizable trade associations–are using any of their lobbying muscle to advance carbon pricing legislation.

Instead, ExxonMobil and Shell and the trade associations that represent them continue to pump millions of dollars into political machinery designed to lobby against any action on climate change.

They say one thing, but they do another.

This chart from the nonprofit research organization InfluenceMap shows the streams of money flowing from ExxonMobil and from Shell, as well as from the American Petroleum Institute, the Western States Petroleum Association, and even the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association. In 2015 alone, ExxonMobil spent $27 million, Shell spent $22 million, and the American Petroleum Institute spent $65 million on obstructive climate lobbying. This money deluge includes advertising and public relations, direct lobbying in Congress and at statehouses, and political contributions and electioneering. They say one thing but do another–to the tune of $100 million a year.

As late as 2014, ExxonMobil gave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce $1 million for the chamber to propagate its climate message, delivered loud and clear not only here in Congress but in the courts, of absolute intransigence against any serious climate action. The U.S. Chamber is powerful, and in Congress we all see everywhere around us its implacable hostility against serious climate legislation.

The gap between ExxonMobil’s stated support for a revenue-neutral carbon tax and its lobbying activities in Congress against any such thing is why Representative Ted Lieu of California and I recently asked the American Geophysical Union, a top-notch scientific society, to reexamine its financial support from ExxonMobil. The American Geophysical Union is made up of honest scientists. In their world, they likely expect that when people say something, it is true. Sadly, in Congress we don’t enjoy the same experience. The good-hearted folks at the American Geophysical Union appear to have been taken in by ExxonMobil’s false claims of support for a carbon price. Since we actually see the fossil fuel industry’s lobbying presence, we wanted to correct any false impression.

“What we see in Congress is that their lobbying efforts are 100 percent opposed to any action on Climate. ….. Whatever position AGU chooses to take, you should not take it based on self-serving representations by ExxonMobil.”

Politico reported that in November ExxonMobil sent executives to Capitol Hill to try and convince congressional critics that ExxonMobil is a conscientious corporation that supports “sound climate policy.” Who did they think they were kidding? Do they think we don’t know how they lobby? We are the targets of their lobbying. We know how they lobby. Unsurprisingly, the ExxonMobil executives left DC “empty-handed ….. after refusing to directly answer questions about whether [ExxonMobil] had suppressed internal research that underscored the threat of climate change while publicly sowing doubt about climate science.”

Given the fossil fuel industry’s massive conflict of interest on carbon pollution, there is every reason for them to play a double game: trying to buy a little credibility for themselves with their public comments, while at the same time using all their lobbying muscle to crush any threat of bipartisan action on the carbon pricing they claim to espouse.

Sadly, in this double game they play, the fossil fuel industry has essentially no corporate opposition in Congress. Across the private sector, there are great corporate leaders on climate change, but from what I see, corporate climate lobbying from the good guys nets to zero. The good guys have given up the field and let the fossil fuel industry to have its way with Congress unopposed, and the result is predictable: Many good Members of Congress are frozen in place, often against their better judgment.

I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record an article I recently wrote for Harvard Business Review explaining this reality. Mr. President, it is time not just for us to wake up but for the good guys to show up.

Fossil fuel folks for years outright denied climate change and happily funded their array of denial front groups. That failed the tests of truth and decency, but at least it was consistent. This new hypocrisy, to say one thing and do another, is playing with fire. First, it poses a legal risk. It is never good to say things you can’t truthfully say under oath, which may be one reason we see such histrionics from the climate denial front groups about investigations where fossil fuel executives may have to tell the truth under oath. Second, it is a real reputation risk, especially among younger consumers who aren’t going to love an industry that lies. It is hard to say that you are not lying when what you are saying and what you are doing are opposite.

It is time for the fossil fuel industry to end this new double game. Either put your money where your mouth is and start working with Congress to enact a price on carbon, as you say you wish, or go back to your climate denial and your creepy front groups and see how that works out for you, but saying one thing while you are doing the exact opposite is just not sustainable.

I yield the floor.