One of ExxonMobil’s top lobbyists has been caught on camera revealing what many critics and environmentalists have claimed all along: That the oil giant continues to fight for its profits over the health of the planet, despite public relations campaigns claiming to back measures like a carbon tax to address climate change.
ExxonMobil is one of the planet’s top producers of oil, natural gas, and plastic, one of the corporations most responsible for our planet’s runaway carbon emissions, and a political heavyweight with a dark history of funding climate-denial front groups that for years have coordinated a campaign in Washington D.C. to stymie political action against global warming.
In recent years, the company has changed its public relations tune, running TV commercials that highlight its supposed commitments to developing fossil-fuel alternatives, while telling shareholders it is “committed to supporting efforts to mitigate the risk of climate change.”
But behind the scenes, it appears not much has changed. Keith McCoy is the Senior Director for Federal Relations at ExxonMobil. He was targeted by Greenpeace UK in an undercover video effort. A representative of the environmental group, masquerading as a corporate headhunter, set up a video interview with McCoy in May, in which the lobbyist touted the company’s successes in working with “shadow groups” to undermine the scientific consensus around climate change. McCoy also bragged of Exxon’s power on the hill and its ongoing influence with a “crucial,” bipartisan group of Senators, chief among them Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Finally, McCoy revealed that Exxon’s public support of an economy-wide carbon tax is an empty PR gesture because “a carbon tax isn’t going to happen.”
An edited video of McCoy’s conversations with Greenpeace UK was aired in a news report this week by the London-based Channel 4:
In his video interview, McCoy drops a number of bombshells.
“We were looking out for our shareholders.”
McCoy admitted that Exxon had “aggressively” sought to undermine the consensus on climate change by working through “shadow groups” in the interest of maintaining the company’s profits:
“Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes. 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.”
A Carbon Tax “Isn’t Going to Happen”
McCoy reveals Exxon’s support of a carbon tax is just a “talking point” and not a serious commitment: “Nobody is willing to to impose 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? We’re for a carbon tax and why?’ [But] a carbon tax isn’t going to happen. The bottom line is it’s going to take political courage and political will in order to get something done. And that doesn’t exist in politics. It just doesn’t.”
Politicians Are Like Fish: You “Reel Them In”
Describing his lobbying tactics, McCoy likened the process to fishing: “When you have an opportunity to talk to a member of congress, I liken it to fishing. Right? You know you have bait. You throw that bait out, you know, all these opportunities that that you use. And, to use the fishing analogy, again, just to kinda reel them in. Because they’re a captive audience. They know they need you, and I need them.”
McCoy said he targets the politicians chiefs of staff: “You can go to the chief and say, ‘Look, we’ve got this issue. We need Congressman So-and-So to be able to introduce this bill. We need him to make a floor statement, to be able to send a letter.’ You name it. We’ve asked for everything.”
Joe Manchin is “A Kingmaker”
Conservative Democrat Manchin — who first ran for Senate with an ad that featured him shooting a bullet through the Obama cap-and-trade climate bill — is still seen by Exxon as their top guy in Washington, McCoy said: “Joe Manchin. I talk to his office every week. He is a kingmaker and he’s not shy about sort of staking his claim early to changing the debate.”
Ten Other Crucial Senators
This part does not appear directly on camera from McCoy, but Channel 4 says that he named ten other senators who are seen as “crucial” to ExxonMobil. They include Democrats Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema of Airzona, Chris Coons of Delaware, Jon Tester of Montana and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. The Republicans named in the report are Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Steve Daines of Montana, John Cornyn of Texas, and Marco Rubio of Florida. Channel 4 says it reached out to each senator for comment and did not get any responses.
Front Group “Whipping Boys”
McCoy says that Exxon is eager to keep its CEO out of Congressional testimony, where members would seek to “rip him to shreds,” preferring to let “our associations” answer the tough questions: “We don’t want it to be us to have these conversations, especially in a hearing. It’s getting our associations to step in and have those conversations and answer those tough questions and be the for lack of a better term, the whipping boy for some of these members of Congress.”
Discussing current policy, McCoy reveals that Exxon has been working to downsize president Biden’s $2 trillion, climate-centric infrastructure bill, to limit it to “roads and bridges” so it can better argue against restrictions on refineries. “If instead of a $2 trillion dollar bill, it’s an $800 billion dollar bill, if you lower that threshold and stick to highways and bridges, then a lot of the negative stuff starts to come out. Why would you put in a something on emissions reductions, on climate change, to oil refineries in a highway bill? People say, yeah, that doesn’t make any sense. So you then you get to the germaneness, say that shouldn’t be in this bill.”
In late June, Biden announce a bipartisan deal on a sub $1 trillion, transportation-focused infrastructure deal. He was flanked by several of Exxon’s crucial senators including Manchin, Sinema and Tester. (There is a separate bill, passable without bipartisan cooperation under a provision known as “reconcilliation” that’s expected to include more ambitious climate-centric projects.)
Apologies and Denunciation
Both McCoy and ExxonMobil have acknowledged the video.
In a statement posted to his LinkedIn account, McCoy expressed chagrin. Notably he did not apologize to the world for working on behalf of Exxon to overheat the planet, nor to the current and future generations who will suffer from Exxon’s pollution, but rather to “all my colleagues at the company and my friends in Washington, D.C.” who might be embarrassed during the present newscycle:
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. 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.
The corporation itself distanced itself from McCoy’s video, in a statement by chairman and CEO Darren Woods that strains belief. Exxon considers us gullible enough to swallow the notion that its “Senior Director for Federal Relations” in no way represents ExxonMobil’s position on federal climate policy and “shocked” by his characterization of the company’s lobbying on Capitol Hill.
Comments made by the individuals in no way represent the company’s position on a variety of issues, including climate policy and our firm commitment that carbon pricing is important to addressing climate change. 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. 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.