The veteran oil industry lobbyist was told he was meeting with a recruiter. But the video call, which was secretly recorded, was part of an elaborate stabbing action by a person who works for the environmental group Greenpeace UK.
During the call, Keith McCoy, an executive director of federal relations at Exxon Mobil, described how the oil and gas giant had targeted a number of influential U.S. senators to undermine climate change in President Biden’s flagship infrastructure plan. That plan now incorporates some of the ambitious ideas Mr Biden originally proposed to reduce fossil fuel burning, the leading cause of climate change.
Mr McCoy also said in the recording that Exxon’s support for a carbon tax was “a big talking point” for the oil company, but he believed the tax would never be introduced. He also said that in the past the company had aggressively fought climate science through “shadow groups”.
On Wednesday, excerpts from the conversation were broadcast by the British broadcaster Channel 4. The Greenpeace subsidiary Unearthed, which recorded the video, also published excerpts.
In a statement, Exxon CEO Darren Woods said the comments “in no way represent the company’s position on a wide variety of issues, including climate policy, and our firm commitment that carbon pricing is important to climate change fight”. McCoy and another lobbyist interviewed by Greenpeace “were never involved in developing the company’s political positions on the issues discussed,” he said.
“We condemn and apologize for the statements made, including comments on interactions with elected officials. They are completely incompatible with the way we expect our employees to behave. We were shocked by these interviews and stand by our commitment to working on solutions to climate change, ”said Woods.
The lobbyist’s remarks came after Exxon, one of the world’s largest producers of fossil fuels, announced in recent years that it supported the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.
As a significant change for the company, Exxon also endorsed the idea of a carbon tax, a fee on the carbon content of fossil fuels designed to reduce emissions by making more polluting goods more expensive. Carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels trap the sun’s heat and are a major contributor to climate change.
In advertising campaigns, Exxon has presented itself as part of the solution to climate change and not as a cause of climate change. Mr. McCoy painted a different picture of Exxon’s behind-the-scenes efforts. On the tape, he said the company had targeted a number of influential senators to try to reduce the climate regulations in President Biden’s comprehensive infrastructure bill by abolishing the tax increases that would pay for it.
“We’re playing defense because President Biden is talking about this huge infrastructure package and will pay for it by increasing corporate taxes,” McCoy said on the video call. But if the plan stuck to “roads and bridges” it would cut the budget sharply and limit the need for tax hikes, a move that would save Exxon nearly a billion dollars, he said.
The Exxon lobbyist has also been skeptical of the idea of taxing CO2 pollution caused by burning fossil fuels – a measure promoted by some Republicans as a “conservative climate solution” based on market principles. Exxon’s chief executive officer Mr. Woods has also argued that instead of “inefficient patchwork of regulations” in the United States, the federal government should simply tax CO2.
Mr. McCoy seemed to contradict this position. “Nobody is going to propose a tax to all Americans. And the cynical side of me says yes, we kind of know that, ”he said. “But it gives us something to talk about.”
Alex Flint, executive director of the Alliance for Market Solutions, which led the push for a carbon tax, said his experience with Exxon lobbyists was that “they are really committed to a carbon tax and they see there is still a lot left to do is to be done “. . “
In the video call recorded by Greenpeace, McCoy defended the company’s efforts to mislead the public about climate change, despite the company’s own scientists recognizing greenhouse gas emissions as a threat to the planet. “Did we fight aggressively against part of science? Yes. Have we hidden our science? Absolutely not, ”said Mr. McCoy. “Did we join any of these shadow groups to counter some of the early efforts? Yes that’s true.”
Mr. McCoy did not identify the groups. Exxon Mobil has spent millions of dollars funding conservative groups challenging mainstream climate science. “But there’s nothing illegal about that,” he said. “We kept an eye out for our investments. We kept an eye out for our shareholders. “