The heads of political groups in the European Parliament have failed to reach a decision on whether to strip ExxonMobil lobbyists from their EU access badges, leaving some activists bitterly disappointed and others reflecting about future engagement with the oil and gas industry.
ExxonMobil lobbyists faced a European Parliament ban after the company failed to show up to a hearing on climate change denial, organised on 21 March.
Parliament rules allow the EU assembly to withdraw long-term access badges to company representatives in case the holder “has refused, without offering a sufficient justification, to comply with a formal summons to attend a hearing or committee meeting or to cooperate with a committee of inquiry.”
But the Conference of Presidents, the highest authority in the European Parliament, did not take a decision on the ban request, submitted by Green MEP Molly Scott Cato.
“Their decision not to revoke the company’s lobby badges shows how the stranglehold of the fossil fuel industry keeps paralysing Europe’s politicians,” said Frida Kieninger, a campaigner at Food and Water Europe.
“The fact that many leaders in the EU Parliament have not managed to take a firm stance on undue actions by Exxon shows the conscious weakness of the only directly elected European institution in the face of corporate lobbying,” said Myriam Douo, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth.
“In light of the upcoming European elections, we urge citizens to ask themselves whether the representative they support will stand up for them or shield the fossil fuels industry,” Douo said.
Exxon was summoned at the hearing to testify about the history and consequences of climate change denial by the fossil fuel industry. But the US oil giant turned down the invitation, saying “ongoing climate change-related litigation in the US” prevented the company from testifying publicly on the matter.
“Public commentary, such as would be elicited at the hearing, could prejudice those pending proceedings,” the company argued.
Geoffrey Supran, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University who conducted a peer-reviewed analysis of ExxonMobil’s 40-year history of climate change communications, ended up being one of the rare speakers at the 21 March hearing.
“I explained to MEPs how internal memos from the fossil fuel industry show that it has known about the potential dangers of global warming caused by its products for 60 years,” Supran said in an commentary published on EURACTIV.
“I described how, instead of warning the world or taking action, fossil fuel companies took the low road, spending the past 30 years – my entire life – sabotaging science, slandering scientists, and undermining policy to protect profits,” Supran wrote.
ExxonMobil rejected “the false allegation” that the company had suppressed scientific research on climate change. “News reports that claim we reached definitive conclusions about the science of climate change decades before the world’s experts are simply not accurate,” it said in a statement.
But although ExxonMobil declined the invitation to the parliamentary hearing, the company did send a letter to MEPs the day before, alleging that Supran’s peer-reviewed research was “inaccurate” and contained “fundamental errors.”
The Harvard University researcher vigorously rejected those claims, denouncing ExxonMobil’s attempt to misrepresent his scientific work.
“The company’s letter calls for a ‘neutral review of the facts,’ yet makes its case by citing a non-peer-reviewed report commissioned and paid for by ExxonMobil,” he retorted. “These tactics are precisely the sort of expert-for-hire doubt-mongering and character assassination that I summarised in my testimony,” Supran said angrily.
Assist the transition rather than demonise
Meanwhile, others questioned the frontal attacks by environmental activists on the fossil fuel industry, saying these were only slowing down the energy transition.
“We should be building broad-based support for our greater capacity to deliver the mass roll out of renewables,” said Dr. Alan Riley, a senior fellow at the Institute for Statecraft, a charity based in London.
“This requires building support across political constituencies and interests and it includes engaging with energy companies to assist in delivering the transition, rather than seeking to target and demonise them.”
“Surely the real focus of parliamentary questioning of energy companies in 2019 should be what are you doing for the energy transition? How much research and development effort are you putting into the transition? How are you planning to integrate renewables into your growth plans? What is your exit strategy from fossil fuels?”
“These are the sort of questions that Parliament should be putting to all energy companies American, Russian, European and Chinese,” Riley said.
[Edited by Samuel Stolton]