Senate Hearing Exposes Big Oil's Insidious Playbook of Climate Deception and Obstruction

New report details industry's tactics to obstruct climate action and evade accountability


WASHINGTON, D.C. - May 1, 2024 ( In an explosive hearing today, the Senate Budget Committee laid bare the depths of the fossil fuel industry's decades-long campaign to knowingly mislead the public about the catastrophic climate impacts of its products, as revealed in an investigative report released yesterday.

Drawing on thousands of previously unseen internal documents, the report shows that fossil fuel companies have known since the 1960s that their products would cause catastrophic warming, yet engaged in a coordinated effort to sow public doubt and block policies to address the crisis.

The investigation also revealed the extensive role that prestigious universities played in Big Oil's climate deception. Oil companies poured millions of dollars into partnerships with top-tier schools to shape research agendas, bolster their credibility, and gain access to policymakers. Internal emails show how companies conditioned grants on academic cooperation and perceived "business value."

"Big Oil's corruption is even more far-reaching than we feared," said Cassidy DiPaola, spokesperson for the Make Polluters Pay campaign.  "This investigation exposes how these companies have not only lied to the public for decades, but infiltrated the halls of academia to peddle their climate disinformation. Policymakers and prosecutors must act swiftly to hold this rogue industry accountable for the climate chaos it has knowingly caused and bring its days of drill, deny and delay to an end."

While companies like Exxon, BP, Shell and Chevron claim to support climate action, the documents reveal that behind closed doors, they acknowledge their business plans are incompatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement. In one email, a BP executive admitted "no one committed to anything" under the global climate accord.

Sharon Eubanks, the former DOJ attorney who led the landmark racketeering case against Big Tobacco, testified that the fossil fuel industry's conduct closely mirrors that of cigarette companies. "The parallels between the conduct of the tobacco industry and the petroleum industry form a solid and appropriate basis for investigating the petroleum industry," Eubanks told the committee. "Given the similarities of the fraudulent acts, and the government's successful case against tobacco, there is adequate foundation for building a case."

Eubanks was invited by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who chaired today's hearing and is a leading advocate in Congress for holding polluters accountable. "For decades, the fossil-fuel industry has known about the economic and climate harms of its products but has deceived the American public to keep collecting more than $600bn each year in subsidies while raking in record-breaking profits," Senator Whitehouse said. 

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, testified about the joint report's bombshell revelations, including that:

  • Exxon privately knew media reports about its early climate research were accurate, even while publicly attacking them as "deliberately misleading."
  • Shell internally discussed concerns that its net zero claims were unachievable and advised employees not to suggest they are "Shell targets."
  • Fossil fuel companies pour tens of millions into academic partnerships to shape research, enhance their reputations, and gain access to policymakers.

Geoffrey Supran, an expert on fossil fuel propaganda tactics, testified that Big Oil's public messaging has shifted from blatant climate denial to "more subtle, insidious forms of propaganda," instead, transitioning their public affairs strategy "from denial to delay, and yet their end goal remained the same: To stop action on climate change."

While Republicans attempted to sidetrack the hearing by elevating false arguments about liquified natural gas (LNG) exports, Representative Raskin noted that this is part of Big Oil's long campaign to promote gas as a climate solution, when their own documents acknowledge its massive climate toll. 

The hearing and report sparked attention on social media, with renewed calls for the fossil fuel industry to be held liable. Momentum is building across the country, with several states moving forward "polluter pay" bills to make oil companies fund climate disaster recovery. California and Vermont have advanced legislation to establish climate superfunds, while over a dozen cities, states and local governments have filed lawsuits against Big Oil for climate fraud and damages.

With new polling showing 72% of voters are angered by the oil industry's deception, and 66% support making companies pay for climate damages, advocates say accountability is inevitable.

"Big Oil has made their billions of profits based on lies — from greenwashing their polluter agenda to pouring millions into lobbying against climate policies," said Climate Power senior advisor for oil and gas Alex Witt. "The oil and gas industry will stop at nothing to profiteer and pollute our air and water, and the findings from this investigation prove it. Big Oil must be held accountable for dangerous and deceptive campaigning that’s destroying our communities and leaving families to suffer the consequences of their actions." investing ideas in water stocks

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