1 Jul 2021

ExxonMobil chief exec apologises over revelations of lobbying war against climate legislation

The chief executive of ExxonMobil has issued a public apology after secret filming of one of its senior lobbyists was broadcast exclusively on Channel 4 News exposing tactics used by the oil giant to water down US climate legislation.

A statement by ExxonMobil’s chief executive Darren Woods was released after the explosive footage, captured by Greenpeace UK’s investigative platform Unearthed, sent shockwaves through Washington D.C.

Mr Woods said the company was “shocked” and is “deeply apologetic” about the comments made by lobbyist Keith McCoy “including comments regarding interactions with elected officials”.

Several senators were named in the covert recordings as “crucial” to ExxonMobil’s lobbying strategy with Democrat Senator Joe Manchin dubbed the “Kingmaker”.

Mr McCoy also released a statement saying he was “deeply embarrassed” by his comments that included claims the company “aggressively” fought climate science to protect their “investments” and “shareholders”.

‘ExxonMobil called to testify’

Prominent Democrat member of Congress Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reacted to the story on Twitter highlighting the “standing weekly check-in call” Senator Manchin allegedly had with ExxonMobil.

Democrat Congressman Ro Khanna also Tweeted, saying he would ask the chief executives of “Exxon, Chevron and other fossil fuel companies to testify” in Congress before the Environment Subcommittee that he chairs.

Speaking to the undercover reporter on a Zoom call in May, Mr McCoy described a lobbying strategy in which he claimed ExxonMobil uses third parties to mask its interests from public view and accountability.

He said the company would get “associations to step in” as a “whipping boy” for ExxonMobil executives that are called before hearings in Congress.

Influential American author and environmental journalist Emily Atkin said she wspeas left “near echless” by Mr McCoy’s revelations, adding: “An Exxon official admitting, on camera, how the company works to prevent effective climate action by using third party ‘whipping boys’ so no one knows it’s them.

“These recordings should be played on every TV station in the world.”

Environmental journalist Jamie Henn said the “Exxon Tapes are already rippling across Capitol Hill”.

What is ExxonMobil?

ExxonMobil is one of the largest corporations in the world and the biggest oil and gas company in the US with a market value of about $236 billion and revenues of more than $180 billion.

The oil and gas multinational is headquartered in Texas and its best-known brands include Esso and Exxon.

Its former chief executive Rex Tillerson served as Secretary of State during the Donald Trump presidency.

The company has repeatedly come under fire from environmental activists over the years and faced accusations of applying pressure on US lawmakers when climate legislation is proposed.

The company has rejected these accusations, saying it has “supported climate science for decades”.

Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse told Channel 4 News climate change legislation was a “by-partisan thing” until a Supreme Court ruling in 2010 let “unlimited money pour into politics” which “Exxon and the rest of the fossil fuel industry took advantage of”.

Mr McCoy’s comments appear to lift the lid on how ExxonMobil apply political pressure behind the scenes.

He said: “Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes. Did we hide our science? Absolutely not. Did we join some of these shadow groups to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that’s true. But there’s nothing, there’s nothing illegal about that.

“We were looking out for our investments. We were looking out for our shareholders.”

Mr McCoy, who has represented the company in its liaison with the US Congress for the last eight years, also claimed ExxonMobil recently lobbied Congress to dilute the climate provisions of President Biden’s Infrastructure Bill.

‘Deeply apologetic’

When Channel 4 News first approached ExxonMobil with the recordings of Mr McCoy’s comments, the company did not apologise.

Instead, a spokesperson accused Greenpeace, who posed as headhunters to convince Mr McCoy to agree to the Zoom call, of waging a “multi-decade campaign against our company and industry”.

They said their “lobbying efforts fully comply with all laws and are publicly disclosed”, adding that “Greenpeace and others have distorted our position on climate science”.

However, hours after Channel 4 News broadcast the footage, the company released a statement from chief executive Darren Woods.

He said: “The individuals interviewed were never involved in developing the company’s policy positions on the issues discussed. We condemn the statements and are deeply apologetic for them, including comments regarding interactions with elected officials.”

He added: “Comments made by the individuals in no way represent the company’s position on a variety of issues… They are entirely inconsistent with the way we expect our people to conduct themselves.

“We were shocked by these interviews and stand by our commitments to working on finding solutions to climate change.”

In a statement released on LinkedIn, Mr McCoy said: “I am deeply embarrassed by my comments and that I allowed myself to fall for Greenpeace’s deception.

“My statements clearly do not represent ExxonMobil’s positions on important public policy issues.”

He added: ”While some of my comments were taken out of context, there is no excuse for what I said or how I said it. I apologize to all my colleagues at the company and my friends in Washington, D.C., all of whom have a right to expect better of me.”