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House committee intends to subpoena fossil fuel companies for documents about climate disinformation

<i>Eddie Seal/Bloomberg/Getty Images/FILE</i><br/>
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Eddie Seal/Bloomberg/Getty Images/FILE

By Matt Egan and Ella Nilsen, CNN

Breaking: House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney announced at the end of Thursday’s hearing that she plans to subpoena oil companies and trade groups for key documents related to their conduct around the climate crisis.

“We are at code red for climate and I committed to doing everything I can to help rescue this planet and save it for our children,” the New York Democrat said during her closing remarks. “We need to get to the bottom of the oil industry’s disinformation campaign, and with these subpoenas we will.”

This story will be updated.

For the first time, the executives of major fossil fuel companies and industry groups testified in front of Congress on Thursday about disinformation on the climate crisis and the role their organizations have played in it.

Heads from ExxonMobil, BP America, Chevron Corp., Shell Oil Co., the American Petroleum Institute and the US Chamber of Commerce appeared in front of the House Oversight Committee. Committee members pressed the executives about their knowledge of the climate crisis, the role fossil fuels have played in it and their desire to put profits over a climate solution.

The hearing comes after reports the fossil fuel industry has participated in campaigns aimed at creating confusion about the cause of the climate crisis or sowing skepticism in the science. An undercover video released this summer appeared to show an ExxonMobil lobbyist admitting the company fought climate policy and the science behind it.

“For far too long, Big Oil has escaped accountability for its central role in bringing our planet to the brink of a climate catastrophe,” House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, said in a statement to CNN, before the hearing. “That ends today.”

Fossil fuel companies used their time to focus on their commitment to solving the climate crisis, to get to net-zero emissions by 2050 and to emphasize the steps they are taking to lower emissions.

he trade group planned to discuss “advancing our priorities of pricing carbon, regulating methane and reliably producing American energy.”

Democratic lawmakers said Thursday’s hearing was fossil fuel companies’ “Big Tobacco” moment, a nod to the famous 1994 hearings when Big Tobacco CEOs insisted that cigarettes were not addictive. And like the tobacco hearings of the ’90s, this hearing won’t be the end of Congress’ investigation into fossil fuel misinformation.

“I think this is the modern-day equivalent of the tobacco executives telling Congress that smoking is just fine,” Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman, whose state of California has been ravaged by climate-fuel wildfires, told CNN. “You always hope for accountability and progress. Honestly, looking at the big US fossil fuel companies, it’s hard to imagine them approaching this in that spirit.”

A House Oversight Committee investigation has been ongoing for about three months. Lawmakers particularly want to know more about the companies’ more recent activities, from 2015 to the present, including their presence and ads on social media.

Lawmakers recently requested that the oil companies provide documents detailing any efforts to undercut climate science and policy from 2015 on.

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CNN’s René Marsh contributed to this report.

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