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Big Oil majors, including Exxon, BP, Shell, and Chevron, may be subpoenaed to turn over financial documents as part of a congressional probe into alleged disinformation about the effect of the industry on the climate.
"Today's witnesses refused to take responsibility for big oil's decade-long disinformation campaign," said the chairwoman of the Committee of Oversight and Reform, as quoted by CNBC, following a hearing of executives from the four companies and the American Petroleum Institute.
"We need to get to the bottom of the oil industry's disinformation campaign with these subpoenas," Reuters quoted Carolyn Maloney as saying. The committee chair aims to uncover funding of "shadow groups", public relations firms, and social media.
The hearing focused on the period since the 1970s when Big Oil's own research showed a link between their business and the environment, but the companies ignored it, according to Reuters.
One of the participants in the hearing, Democrat Ro Khanna, told Reuters that Big Oil had changed its tune; its actions were not always in sync with this tune.
"I don't believe that you purposely want to be out there spreading climate misinformation, but you're out there funding these groups," Khanna said.
"Our understanding of the science has been aligned with the consensus of the scientific community as far back as 20 years ago," said Exxon chief executive Darren Woods during the hearing. "As science has evolved and developed, our understanding has evolved and developed, as has our work and position on the space."
The chairwoman of the committee, however, complained that she had not received the information she was looking for and that none of the companies and other entities called to testify had supplied the "key documents" the committee wanted, instead supplying a generous number of publicly available documents.
The key documents Maloney wanted were those detailing funding information "to understand their payments to shadow groups and to over 150 public relations companies and advertisements on social media."
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com