Big oil companies spent billions of dollars to deny climate change, delaying governmental action in addressing the issue decades ago
Exxon misled the public and denied the effects of climate change, especially as it disproportionately impacted minority communities, according to experts.
In a hearing in the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Wednesday, lawmakers heard testimonies from six experts on climate change and environmental justice to examine the role big oil companies played in accelerating climate change and deceiving the public about the severity of the issue.
According to lawmakers, Exxon knew about the affects the usage of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases had on the planet in the late 1970’s, yet still chose to deny climate change was happening.
Democratic leaders argued that because Exxon deceived the public about a rapidly changing climate, low-income, minority, and vulnerable communities have been dealing with more severe cases of respiratory diseases, rising temperatures, polluted air and water, and displacement after natural disasters.
“Your zip code does determine your health, and what’s next to you plays a big role in how long you might live,” testified Dr. Mustafa Ali, the vice president for environmental justice at the National Wildlife Federation in D.C. “Our most vulnerable communities are often hit first and worst.”
Ali testified that environmental organizations have been putting a spotlight on disproportionate health impacts for “over 40 years,” and Exxon has known about these affects for that long.
Historian of science Dr. Naomi Oreskes, who testified at the hearing, called this fact a “contradiction” because Exxon began to undermine their own research and deny climate change.
“For more than 30 years, the fossil fuel industry has deliberately and systematically misled the American people,” Oreskes said.
“We were excellent scientists. Exxon was publicly promoting views that its own scientists knew were wrong,” testified Dr. Ed Harvey, a former Exxon scientist, who worked on carbon dioxide research projects for the company. Harvey said he was “greatly distressed” when Exxon began its climate denial campaign.
“What they did was wrong,” Harvey said.
In the early 1980’s, Exxon was leading climate change research in hopes to be a leading voice in the conversation about greenhouse gas regulations.
Republican leaders argued that the discussion about climate change and Big Oil’s role was not accurate, and that gas, oil, and coal has given people job opportunities.
Ranking Member Chip Roy, R-Texas, said “our rig in Texas, is still massively powered by the dense energy that is available in fossil fuels, making lives better every single day.”
Still, witnesses testified about the long-lasting impacts greenhouse gasses, and the rising global temperature and worsening natural disasters have on people’s livelihoods.
According to the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice division, race is the leading indicator for the placement of toxic plants, and more people of color have died from the inhalation of toxic air and water.
The global south and communities of color bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change, according to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
“There’s a difference between an electricity bill and people’s lives,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“This issue of the environment has become one that is politicized, and the environment should never be politicized,” Ali said.