House Committee seeks interview with Exxon lobbyist caught on tape

The House Oversight Committee is requesting that Keith McCoy appear before the committee to discuss ExxonMobil’s anti-climate lobbying tactics and funding for shadow groups.

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Keith McCoy, a senior director in ExxonMobil's Washington, D.C. government affairs team, was secretly recorded by Unearthed, Greenpeace U.K.'s investigative journalism arm. (Photo: Screenshot/Unearthed)

A congressional committee is requesting an interview with the ExxonMobil lobbyist who was revealed by an undercover Greenpeace investigation in June admitting that the company has misled the public on climate change and continues to use lobbying tactics to prevent climate action.

On July 26, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent a letter to Keith McCoy, a senior director in Exxon’s Washington DC government affairs team, requesting his voluntary appearance before the committee for an in person on-the-record interview on August 9. The letter, signed by Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), cites the Greenpeace investigation.

“[Y]ou spoke candidly about ExxonMobil’s current public support for a price on carbon as a mere publicity stunt. You asserted that the company does not actually believe such a policy will ever exist,” the letter says. “Your statements suggest that in supporting this policy, ExxonMobil is seeking to create the false appearance that it has become more climate friendly.”

Greenpeace’s investigative arm, Unearthed, secretly recorded zoom calls with McCoy, in which McCoy unwittingly provided an inside look at the company’s lobbying strategy. “Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes,” he said.

“Did we join some of these ‘shadow groups’ to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that’s true,” McCoy added. “But there’s nothing illegal about that. You know, we were looking out for our investments, we were looking out for our shareholders.” The revelations were first reported by Channel 4 News.

McCoy also said that the company’s public support for a carbon tax was a “talking point” and an “advocacy tool” — a policy that Exxon saw as unlikely to ever pass into law, which made supporting it an easy way to make the company appear to be a good faith actor on climate policy.

“Nobody is going to propose a tax on all Americans and the cynical side of me says, yeah, we kind of know that but it gives us a talking point that we can say, well what is ExxonMobil for? Well, we’re for a carbon tax,” McCoy said.

The congressional letter also references additional revelations from the Unearthed investigation, in which McCoy admits ExxonMobil worked with trade groups to stop stricter regulations on polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — often dubbed “forever chemicals” because of their inability to breakdown in the environment. While Exxon manufactures and uses these products, McCoy said, the company actively worked to keep this fact out of the public’s attention.

The letter also goes on to mention efforts by ExxonMobil to make sure natural gas is defined as a clean energy source in a potential Clean Energy Standard currently being negotiated as part of the broader infrastructure talks in Congress.

“Your statements raise serious concerns about your role in ongoing efforts by ExxonMobil and the fossil fuel industry to spread climate disinformation, including through the use of ‘shadow groups,’ in order to block action to address climate change,” the letter says.

As DeSmog has documented, ExxonMobil has funded a long list of think tanks and front groups intended to sow doubt about climate change, including some groups as prominent as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and many more obscure outfits with the intention of creating an ecosystem of disinformation.

ExxonMobil also faces multiple lawsuits over its past knowledge of climate change, which dates back more than four decades, and its efforts to mislead public perception on climate science.

The House Oversight Committee Subcommittee on Environment, led by Rep. Khanna, is planning to hold hearings with oil executives in the coming months to probe the long history of climate denial. The committee, at this point, is seeking the voluntary participation by Exxon’s lobbyist Keith McCoy, but the committee has the power to subpoena him for testimony.

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