Exxon lobbyists urged Commission to tune down car CO2 rules

The Commission's CO2 standards were subject to Exxon lobbying. [Photo: roibu / Shutterstock]

ExxonMobil officials urged the EU in November to weaken guidelines on vehicle emissions, according to information obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

Oil giant Exxon met European Commission officials just weeks before the EU announced its new Green Deal, documents showed Friday (6 March), in what one monitor described as “an attempt to influence” the bloc’s green agenda.

While there is no evidence that either Exxon or Commission officials acted improperly, the document gives rare insight into how energy majors engage with the lawmaking process, in ways that could effectively slow policies designed to curb carbon emissions.

The energy industry watchdog InfluenceMap, which released the internal meeting notes, said they constituted “the latest example of the US oil major’s attempt to influence climate legislation globally”.

Exxon representatives pushed the Commission to remove the EU’s strict CO2 vehicles standards, in an apparent “effort to stall a push towards electric vehicles,” InfluenceMap said.

EU Green Deal to tune up car CO2 rules 

The European Commission will revise car CO2 standards and move towards zero-emission vehicles in the 2030s, according to the EU’s new Green Deal, unveiled on Wednesday (11 December). Every other mode of transport can expect attention over the next five years too.

An Exxon spokesman told AFP it fully complies with the EU’s Transparency Register disclosing meetings between officials and industry members, and that it supports the Paris climate deal, which calls for capping global warming below two degrees Celsius.

The Commission on Wednesday (4 March) unveiled a green growth law mandating member states to achieve “climate neutrality” – net zero greenhouse gas emissions – by 2050.

It would give the EU executive new powers to impose emission targets on member state governments, a measure welcomed by greens and some activists.

Just weeks earlier, documents show three unnamed Exxon representatives met with a member of the team of Frans Timmermans, the Commission’s top climate change official.

Notes show Exxon’s members apparently pushed for a change in EU vehicles emissions regulations, saying: “Tail pipe emission legislation should be substituted with power plant to wheel emission regulation.”

They also show Exxon representatives pushed for “lower carbon liquid fuels” such as liquid hydrogen and biofuels derived from plant matter – both of which Exxon aims to produce – to “remain very much in the picture”.

EU regulations mandate that manufacturers begin to green their vehicle fleet, measured on the basis of exhaust pollution – around 60% of a vehicle’s lifetime emissions.

New cars still way behind in reaching EU emission standards by 2021

While the European Union has set a limit of 95g/km for new vehicles, with one year to go before the deadline, manufacturers are stagnating at 122g/km according to AAA Data. EURACTIV’s partner le Journal de l’environnement reports.

Ed Collins, InfluenceMap’s director of corporate climate lobbying, said Exxon was trying to stave off emissions reductions by reframing the environmental damage caused by burning gasoline and diesel.

“It would take the pressure off the auto sector in the push towards electric vehicles,” he told AFP. “If you’ve still got liquid fuel in the mix then obviously that’s useful to Exxon as their market is liquid fuels.”

An Exxon spokesman told AFP: “We have a responsibility to our customers, employees, communities and stakeholders to engage in a public policy dialogue that impacts our business.”

Collins however pointed to other details in the notes, including Exxon officials advocating hydrogen fuel and largely untested carbon-capture technologies as part of the climate plan.

“They’re selling the continuation of infrastructure and investment in fossil fuels on the promise of technologies we don’t know are going to be viable,” he said.

An EU spokesman said it was the Commission’s role “to listen to the views of diverse stakeholders as it formulates new policies.”

InfluenceMap last year said Exxon had spent $41 million annually since the 2015 Paris deal – which aims to limit temperature rises by slashing emissions – on lobbying against climate legislation, something Exxon denied.

Meetings between MEPs and lobbyists to be made public

A revision of the European Parliament’s rules of procedure, which was adopted on 31 January, increases transparency obligations for meetings between elected officials and lobbies, despite the EPP’s attempts to scupper the amendment. EURACTIV France reports.

Subscribe to our newsletters