The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

House Democrats subpoena oil companies over climate disinformation

The requests for documents come after a first-of-its-kind hearing with Big Oil over its role in swaying public opinion on global warming science.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, speaks at committee hearing on the role of fossil fuel companies in climate change.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform issued subpoenas Tuesday for documents from some of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies to build its case that Big Oil has for decades misled the public about climate change.

The committee is seeking records from ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Dutch Royal Shell concerning what Democratic lawmakers describe as a concerted effort by the petroleum industry to sow doubt about the scientific reality of global warming, according to a memo released by the panel.

Two lobbying groups funded by fossil fuel firms, the American Petroleum Institute and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, were also given subpoenas.

The requests were sent as many top U.S. officials, including President Biden and many of his Cabinet members, attended a major climate summit in Scotland in an attempt to push other nations to drastically cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the committee, said the six entities failed to produce a “substantial portion” of the documents requested from them ahead of a historic hearing Thursday, at which top executives appeared before the House panel for questioning about climate change.

“So I see no choice but continue our committee’s investigation until we see the truth,” Maloney said at the end of the hearing, noting one of the groups simply printed out and sent in 1,500 pages from its own website. She concluded the hearing by announcing that subpoenas would be sent shortly.

In September, the panel asked the companies to voluntarily hand over documents related to their marketing and lobbying efforts and their funding of outside groups, among other subjects.

The hearing was the first time top oil officials were grilled under oath about whether their companies sought to obscure the science of human-caused climate change, much of which comes through the burning of gasoline and other products they sell.

Exxon CEO Darren Woods, for instance, faced questions about past corporate statements dismissing climate change, even as the company’s in-house researchers had studied the issue for years.

During the hearing, Woods and other executives acknowledged climate change poses risks, but they denied involvement in a campaign to deceive the public.

Exxon spokesman Casey Norton wrote by email Tuesday that the company has already provided almost 130,000 pages of documents and has been “cooperating with the committee since their first contact months ago.”

Matt Letourneau, managing director of communications at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, said “we have made every effort to cooperate with the committee and will review this request.”

In statements Tuesday, representatives from Chevron BP, Shell and the API also said they will continue to work with the committee.

Sign up for the latest news about climate change, energy and the environment, delivered every Thursday

More on climate change

Understanding our climate: Global warming is a real phenomenon, and weather disasters are undeniably linked to it. As temperatures rise, heat waves are more often sweeping the globe — and parts of the world are becoming too hot to survive.

What can be done? The Post is tracking a variety of climate solutions, as well as the Biden administration’s actions on environmental issues. It can feel overwhelming facing the impacts of climate change, but there are ways to cope with climate anxiety.

Inventive solutions: Some people have built off-the-grid homes from trash to stand up to a changing climate. As seas rise, others are exploring how to harness marine energy.

What about your role in climate change? Our climate coach Michael J. Coren is answering questions about environmental choices in our everyday lives. Submit yours here. You can also sign up for our Climate Coach newsletter.