March 12, 2015

Time to Wake Up: What Big Oil Companies Say Vs. What They Do

As delivered on the Senate floor

Thank you, Mr. President, there are a lot of people—scientists, doctors and health professionals, our military and security leaders, the insurance and reinsurance industry, most of our major utilities, even faith leaders—who agree that climate change is a serious problem and an important priority.  

In the private sector, many corporate leaders see climate change as both a moral challenge and a financial opportunity.  Indeed, as I rise today now for the 92nd time to urge my colleagues in Congress to wake up to the urgent threat of climate change, major American companies have already begun to take action.  They’re not waiting around for Congress.

Ceres, for instance, is a non-profit organization that helps to mobilize investors and business leaders to build a sustainable global economy.  Ceres reports that nearly half of Fortune 500 companies now have their own clean-energy targets. 

Institutional investors are also committed to fighting climate change.  In 2003, there were just ten of them.  Ten years later, by 2013, there were 110, holding $13 trillion in assets. 

Walmart uses about 25 percent renewable energy; Google is at 35 percent; and Apple nearly 75 percent.  More and more companies are seeing the benefit of cleaning up their energy sources and investing in the future.  And it’s not just out of the goodness of their hearts.  These are our most profitable corporations.  They have made a successful business model of saving money by reducing their carbon footprint. 

Coca-Cola, for instance, knows how disruptive climate change can be to the water supply that is the most basic need of its bottling facilities.  Apparel giant VF Industries understands the threat of changing conditions to agricultural commodities like cotton.  And yes, these companies also know that four out of five Americans support action on climate change.  In other words, climate-friendly corporate practices are a hit with consumers, particularly younger consumers.

Since consumers want climate friendliness, there are also companies who try to have it both ways.  They try to look like good actors on climate change without really being good actors.  It’s called “greenwashing.”, and the major oil and gas companies are classic greenwashers.  Look at their public statements, and their ad campaigns, and you might think they were helping to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.  But what they say, and what they do, don’t match up.

Look at the green ad campaigns that have been run by the big oil companies.  Some of these multi-million dollar campaigns still run today. 

Here’s Chevron saying, “We agree,” it is time for oil companies to get behind renewable energy.  This campaign started in 2010 and is still around.  For years Chevron said renewable energy was part of its business plan.  It actually once built utility-scale solar and geothermal projects—and it even made money doing it.  But in the end, Chevron’s core business of drilling up oil and gas prevailed, and last year, Chevron sold off almost all of its renewable energy business.  But they still pretend they’re green!  They still say, “We agree”—but in real life they don’t.

Not too long ago, BP styled itself “Beyond Petroleum” and told us to “think outside the barrel.”  The company made industry-leading investments in wind farms and solar power, in the billions of dollars.  But BP, too, has exited the solar business and has attempted to sell its U.S. wind farms in what a company spokesperson called “part of a continuing effort to become a more focused oil and gas company.”  They were just pretending to be green. And here’s their logo. Look at this ridiculous little green and yellow flower sunshine thing. From oil extractors, it’s a total phony.

The pick of the fossil fuel industry litter is Shell.  Public pronouncements from Shell have been sensational.  Shell ads told us of the effort to “broaden the world’s energy mix.”  Well, Mr. President, in 2012, Shell reported investing about $400 million into low-carbon alternatives, which seems like a lot, until you realize that was out of nearly $23 billion that year spent by Shell in total expenditures—less than 2 percent.  Compare that $400 million in 2012, Shell has spent at least $5 billion in recent years to expand oil and gas drilling operations in the Arctic.  Shell is one of the largest holders of filthy tar sands rights in Canada.

But here’s the champ when it comes to climate doublespeak.  ExxonMobil excels.  Since at least 2008, the oil giant has run ads like these, with scientific formulas and lucite molecules and all these technological looking things. Well, Exxon executives and engineers tell us about the need to protect the environment, and to move toward cleaner, more diverse energy sources like wind and solar, as they have images of wind turbines twirling in the distance. 

Exxon doesn’t report transparently enough for a solid case to be proven, but there’s at least a reasonable inference that could be drawn that they spend more on advertising their green research than they do on their green research.  “Exxon’s ads,” wrote the Wall Street Journal, “are part of a growing effort by the industry to counter a political backlash against rising oil prices and global-warming worries.” Well, faking it is not a solution.

This campaign is still running.  The latest ads are right there on its website, where the public is watching.  The Exxon website also tells us, “rising greenhouse gas emissions pose significant risks to society and ecosystems.”  Again, for public consumption. But when they file comments with the regulators, in 2009, Exxon wrote that “support for the effects of climate change on public health and welfare is almost non-existent and engulfed in an extremely high degree of uncertainty.”

And for years, Exxon has been devoted to propping up climate denial and climate deniers.  The Union of Concerned Scientists found that between 2002 and 2010, ExxonMobil contributed to and lobbied anti-climate Members of Congress over pro-climate Members at a ratio of 10-to-1.  Recent disclosures show that even after vowing that it would no longer bankroll groups that denied climate change, Exxon continued for years to fund the work of climate skeptic Willie Soon, an astrophysicist whose research is under investigation for failure to divulge his oil industry backing.

Which Exxon are we supposed to believe?  Remember the words of the Exxon vice president who testified before Congress in 2008 that “the pursuit of alternative fuels must not detract from the development of oil and gas.” 

ExxonMobil’s ads boast that the company is “Taking on the world’s toughest energy challenges.”  Well, Mr. President, the toughest challenge we face is finding a way to fuel the global economy without driving the climate to the breaking point with our limitless, endless carbon pollution.  ExxonMobil is committed to an oil economy that has no future.  If only Exxon and the other oil giants would devote more of their advertising budgets to research and to the development of renewable fuels, we might be better off.

And , if you don’t think the big oil companies are bad enough on their own, once they get together they’re downright dirty.  These companies, Chevron, BP, Shell, and ExxonMobil, are all members of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry trade association.  Well, as we all know around here, API is dedicated to obstructing action on climate change and even to spreading false doubt about its existence.  And API  in turn funds some of the worst climate denial front organizations. 

Chevron, BP, Shell, and ExxonMobil also support something called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. ALEC is an organization which works to undercut climate science and undermine climate progress in our state legislatures.  ALEC has tried to roll back state renewable fuel standards and has handed out model state legislation to obstruct and tie up the President’s Clean Power Plan. So which way are they going to have it?  The way they sell themselves in the ads, with funny little sunbursts and lucite molecules, or their real presence in state legislatures and in Congress spending money to shut down the climate debate, and keep pumping the oil?

Major American companies like Google, Ebay, Facebook, Yahoo, and even Occidental Petroleum have dissociated themselves from ALEC because of its destructive position on climate.  Google CEO Eric Schmidt has said of ALEC, “they are literally lying” about climate change  But they keep getting funding from Chevron, BP, Shell, and ExxonMobil.

Mr. President, the reality is that these major fossil fuel companies are dedicated to a fossil fuel future that puts basic systems of our planet, basic operating  systems of our planet at risk. All these ad campaigns and public statements to make the companies look good are just a way to paper over that basic, dirty, continuing fact.  It’s a sham; a false front; it is phony PR. All the greenwashing in the world shouldn’t cover that up.

But I will conclude by saying it does seem to be having its effect. We have seen recently in the news in Florida that Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials have been ordered not to use the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails or reports.  That is according to DEP employees, DEP consultants, DEP volunteers, and state records, all dug out by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

Governor Scott of Florida has repeatedly said he is “not convinced that climate change is caused by human activity,” despite the scientific evidence to the contrary.  It is apparently a gag order about climate change that was well known and distributed verbally statewide.

I guess Governor Scott has told reporters that he had not been convinced about climate change and that he would need something more convincing than what I have read.  I would be interested to know what his reading list was.  So here we are in a world of fantasy in which the big oil polluters put on this pretense that they are clean, that they care about clean energy, that they are interested in a non-fossil fuel future, while they are supporting the very organizations that undercut that work here in Congress.  And they are able to get behind people such as the Governor, apparently, in Florida, certainly his administration, who are so paralyzed about climate change that they not only won’t say the words, but they won’t allow state employees to even say the words.  That is a pathetic state of democracy.

I yield the floor, and I now turn to my friend from Georgia.