War profiteering, bike helmets, and another court loss for Exxon
Plus, updates on developments in Congress and in the courts to hold Big Oil accountable.
Emily Sanders is the Center for Climate Integrity’s editorial lead. Catch up with her on Twitter here.
Good afternoon. We’d like to start with a shoutout to our second favorite lawyer for Big Oil, Phil Goldberg. Goldberg leads the Manufacturers Accountability Project (MAP), a front group that works to shield oil giants from legal accountability for knowingly destroying the climate. In a recent profile in the Guardian, Goldberg, who is also a former coal lobbyist, claimed to be a “committed environmentalist,” and he demonstrated so by agreeing to be photographed only if he could pose with his bike and helmet.
Perhaps Goldberg is bracing for a reckoning (h/t @paula_read)? That would be smart: the industry he represents is fighting an uphill battle to keep its lies and deception in the dark.
Oil executives have been lying their heads off about their role in the rising price of gas — and last week, they got caught.
On March 16, CNN released audio from multiple calls where oil executives assured their investors that they were prioritizing shareholder profits above all else.
Big Oil and its allies have blamed egregiously high gas prices across the country on Biden administration policies, but this tape says otherwise. A new video from More Perfect Union explains how Big Oil has been doubling down on that frame to cover up the reality that the industry is exploiting Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to price gouge:
The executives’ admissions made it even more clear that the industry is keeping gas prices high in order to line their shareholders’ pockets while working people suffer at the pump.
Vedant Patel @VedantPatel46🚨👇🏾What we've been hearing from oil and gas companies: - "We think it's important to return cash back to the shareholders." - "No one wants to see that shareholder return program put at risk." - "We have no need and no intent to invest in production growth this year." https://t.co/DfDcROO93b
Last Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the oil industry’s role in rising gas prices “is deeply damaging to working Americans,” and promised that “the Senate is going to get answers, and that’s why we will be calling on the CEOs of major oil companies to come testify before Congress.”
The chairs of two House committees — Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone Jr. and Natural Resources Chair Raúl M. Grijalva — have asked executives from major oil and gas companies to testify at separate hearings in April to answer for how “the industry appears to be taking advantage of the crisis for its own benefit” and is “blaming high gas prices on Biden administration policies, while simultaneously sitting on unused permits and raking in record profits,” respectively.
House and Senate members are also pushing a “windfall profits tax” on Big Oil companies to help ease the burden on working people and ensure that the industry stops its war profiteering.
Under the proposed legislation, oil majors making record profits would be required to pay a per-barrel tax amounting to half the difference between the current price of a barrel and the average price between the years 2015 and 2019. In other words, it would tax excess profits compared to previous years, during which profits were still very high. That money would be returned to members of the public who make less than $75,000 per year.
Taxing Big Oil’s profits also happens to be massively popular with voters — 80 percent support such a tax, according to a recent poll from Hart Research Associates. And while President Biden hasn’t endorsed the tax just yet, he has publicly chastised the companies’ behavior:
While Congress decides how to rein in industry greed, Exxon keeps losing attempts to escape accountability in court.
We’ve previously covered Exxon and other oil giants’ attempts to use “corporate free speech” as an argument for courts to throw out lawsuits calling out the industry’s decades-long climate deception. Those arguments were among several that a Suffolk Superior Court Judge on Monday denied Exxon from using in its attacks on Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s consumer fraud lawsuit against the company.
Meanwhile in the UK, environmental law organization ClientEarth filed suit against directors of European oil major Shell — a groundbreaking case that seeks to force the company’s board to align its emissions goals with the Paris Agreement. In its argument, ClientEarth says that by failing to address the risks climate change poses to the company itself, Shell has violated the law.
“It’s the first time that anyone has sought to hold the board accountable for failing to properly prepare for the net zero transition,” Paul Benson, a ClientEarth lawyer, told the Guardian. “It is highly novel, we’re in uncharted territory here but we see real merit with this claim.”
Big Oil’s lawyers will need more than bike helmets to get out of that one.
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