US Representative Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has drafted subpoenas against several oil companies that she claims did not provide adequate documents to address accusations that they were involved in spreading climate misinformation.

A US congressional hearing on Thursday put the chief executives of ExxonMobil, BP America and Chevron, and the presidents of Shell Oil Company and the American Petroleum Institute on the stand to discuss oil companies’ alleged involvement in climate misinformation campaigns.

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The witnesses spoke before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on their companies’ involvement in climate change ambitions, while House representatives questioned them on their funding activities.

Chairwoman Maloney asked each of the witnesses to pledge that they would not spend any money toward climate misinformation campaigns, but not a single executive agreed to make the pledge. Instead, each said they would continue to support and advocate for policy that addresses climate change.

Byron Donalds, a Republican from Florida, said forcing companies to pledge in front of Congress what they will spend their money on is a violation of the First Amendment, and he submitted a letter from other Republican representatives requesting Maloney apologise for her treatment of the witnesses.

While each executive denied approving any misinformation campaign, Democratic representatives were concerned that the companies were supporting organisations that acted as fronts for the companies. They were also concerned that the executives were simply lying, noting that tobacco executives lied under oath in 1994, telling Congress that nicotine was not addictive.

Target on ExxonMobil

ExxonMobil was the main target of the hearing, after its former lobbyist, Keith McCoy, told fake headhunters that the company’s public support for a carbon tax is only used as a talking point, and that he had weekly calls with certain members of Congress.

In a series of questions from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, ExxonMobil chief executive Darren Woods said he was not aware of McCoy’s calls when they occurred, and that although he has occasionally participated in calls with members of Congress during discussions on the infrastructure bill, he never discussed political donations in those calls.

Maloney was more focused on a history of climate change denial within the oil and gas industry. She claimed the industry has known about the effects of fossil fuels on climate for decades, but refused to publicly support the idea that humans are worsening climate change.

She also home in on a statement made by former ExxonMobil chief executive officer Lee Raymond in 1996.

“Currently, the scientific evidence is inconclusive as to whether human activities are having a significant effect on the global climate,” Raymond said, according to Maloney.

Currently, the scientific evidence is inconclusive as to whether human activities are having a significant effect on the global climate

Former ExxonMobil CEO, Lee Raymond, 1994

She then presented several internal reports and memos from ExxonMobil scientists dating to the 1970s and 1980s, which showed the company’s scientists warned of potentially catastrophic consequences from climate change, which they attributed to fossil fuels and other man-made problems.

Woods maintained that the company has consistently followed the guidance of the scientific community and has developed its opinions as the scientific community has developed its consensus.

He did later clarify that the company “does not support climate denial”, and that he did not support the comments made by McCoy, the former lobbyist, but he would not denounce the statement made by the former chief executive.

The different oil companies had clearly different approaches to the idea of the energy transition — the US companies seemed more heavily focused on reducing carbon dioxide emissions while their European counterparts planned to reduce oil production — but not a single executive disagreed with the fact that climate change is an existential threat to humans.