Republicans and fossil fuel interests have a, shall we say, cosy relationship. But that relationship went from snuggly to downright NSFW on Thursday at a hearing ostensibly about fossil fuel misinformation.
The House Oversight Committee welcomed executives from four fossil companies and two trade groups as well as a pipeline welder to probe decades of campaigns to confuse the public. There’s plenty of fodder. The past few years have seen journalist and academic investigations, lawsuits, FTC complaints, and sting operations that have revealed the ways the fossil fuel industry misleads the public — and continues to do so to this day. That has put the entire planet in a dangerous place now, with a steep carbon pollution drawdown needed to avert extreme climate damage.
But what Republican members of Congress wanted to do on Thursday was humbly apologise to CEOs of some of the most powerful corporations on Earth for being forced to account for their actions. More than that, they wanted to thank them for their service to society and scold anyone who dared question these titans of industry.
Here is a smattering of defence, praise, and obsequiousness:
- “God bless Chevron,” Rep. Jim Jordan (recipient of $US59,956 ($79,448AUD) in oil and gas money in the 2020 election cycle) said, thanking the company for increasing production. “I want to thank those companies that are actually increasing production,” Jordan later added.
- “These companies being villainized,” said Rep. Jody Hice (recipient of $US5,000 (A$6,626) from the oil and gas industry in 2020, which talk about getting your money’s worth). Hice did not ask a question.
- “It’s just people who don’t have anything better to do than type on their keyboards,” Rep. Byron Donalds ($US18,110 (A$23,998) from oil and gas interests so far this cycle) said of climate activists before turning to the oil CEOs. “Let’s be very clear, you need an apology. What I witnessed today is rank intimidation by the chair of this committee. … It is disgusting, it is absolutely disgusting. Somebody better call Merrick Garland, tell him to get in here, and watch the intimidation that came from this very panel today. It’s not about defending Big Oil. … I’m sorry for you. And I’m sorry for the people in our country who have to witness shenanigans like this.”
- “While this committee may not like you because you’re executives, because your companies have been successful, I just want to apologise for the decorum. Because thank you for what you’ve done,” said Rep. Yvette Herrell ($US115,126 (A$152,553) from the industry she was overseeing, making her the second-biggest oil and gas recipient in the House so far this cycle). “There are people here who believe in you. Thank you. … In fact, I would just submit to saving anybody who has gotten a vaccination or who is going to get tone, thank you to the oil and gas industry because I would bet that almost every single one of the syringes has been touched by a petroleum product. … I just want to thank all of you for being here today.”
- “You guys all have a good story to tell. Don’t be afraid to tell people how much cleaner things are than in the past. It doesn’t do any good for you any good to get all woke on us,” Rep. Glenn Grothman ($US30,576 (A$40,516) from oil and gas in 2020 and $US3,570 ($4,731) so far this year.)
- “It’s been very shameful how the other side wants to demonize our oil and gas industry. I’m very proud of our oil and gas industry, the innovators that adopt new tech, provide a higher standard of living, and jobs throughout our country,” said Rep. Bob Gibbs, the $US28,558 (A$37,842) oil and gas man in 2020. He later added, “I’m disappointed the chair failed to recognise that and demonize them on that.”
- “I apologise to our witnesses that were called and asked to take part in this today,” said Rep. Pete Sessions, who has so far received $US11,400 ($15,106) from oil and gas interests and raked in $US237,375 (A$314,546) in 2018. (2020 data was unavailable.)
- “There is a moral case to be made for the fossil fuel industry and fossil fuels as a whole,” Rep. Pat Fallon, who has taken in $US5,600 (A$7,421) in oil and gas money. “If we want more abundant and inexpensive and cleaner energy — which we all should do — these witnesses here should be the ones that we are supporting and applauding and not demonizing.”
- “These very important energy companies and the [American] Petroleum Institute understand you’ve got yourself here, you’ve seen the attitude of the folks on the left of this committee. When you get asked this morning that, aren’t you embarrassed, that’s really an irrational question to ask CEOs about their company,” said Rep. Andy Biggs, the receiver of $US27,253 (A$36,113) in oil and gas money in 2020.
- “My, my, my. Good lord help us to be protected from this threat from within. American patriots are so done with career politicians and Democratic socialist insanity… We are nauseated by the continuous attacks on working Americans and American industry. This entire debacle of a hearing today of why my colleagues across the aisle will lose their majority status very soon,” Rep. Clay Higgins predicted. (Higgins has received $US10,426 (A$13,815) in fossil fuel cash so far this cycle and $US40,773 (A$54,028) in 2020.)
- “Did President Biden or anyone from the White House apologise to you?” Rep. James Comer, who received $US18,500 (A$24,514) in fossil fuel cash in 2020, asked the welder Republicans invited. (For the record, he did not.)
A United Nations report out this week warns the world as a whole is facing a “production gap,” with more fossil fuels on tap to be produced than is compatible with a safe climate. Other reports have warned that new fossil fuel exploration must stop next year, emissions must fall at unprecedented rates over the next decade, and that cutting fossil fuel production and use is the most surefire way to do that. The reason we’re at this precipice is because the fossil fuel industry pursued a misinformation campaign while further entrenching their product with the global economy, fully aware that it would cause major climate damage.
It is also because Republicans (and a handful of Democrats) have blocked climate action, and have maintained a grip on power in no small part thanks to millions of dollars from the fossil fuel industry. The industry has directed roughly 85% of its donations in 2020 to Republicans, and is on track to do the same this year (and has done the same in past years, too). Those same Republicans who apologised to the industry and thanked it on Thursday.
Anyways, this is all very cool and very legal.