Exxon Lobbyist Unwittingly Reveals Company Strategy to Block Climate Legislation

Interview with Natalie Mebane, 350.org policy director, conducted by Scott Harris

Britain’s Channel 4 News released a video recording on June 30 which featured a senior ExxonMobil lobbyist revealing how the fossil fuel giant leverages its wealth and power to block or weaken climate action legislation in the U.S. Congress. The recording was produced by Unearthed, Greenpeace UK’s investigative unit, where their members posed as headhunters to obtain several incriminating admissions from Keith McCoy, ExxonMobil’s senior director of federal relations.

In the clandestinely made recording, McCoy asserted that the company secretly fought against legislative action on climate change using third-party organizations; lobbied key senators to remove and/or dilute climate change measures from President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs bill; and regarded trade bodies like the American Petroleum Institute as “whipping boys” in order to avoid public scrutiny on Capitol Hill.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Natalie Mebane, policy director with the international climate action group 350.org. Here, she assesses the significance of the ExxonMobil lobbyist’s comments and her group’s priorities for climate action in the Biden administration’s proposed infrastructure plan.

NATALIE MEBANE: It’s not illegal for a company to lobby. So we cannot say you are not allowed to lobby because that’s not realistic, right? They can lobby. What we can say is that if you accept meetings with representatives of ExxonMobil or any other dirty fuel, oil, coal gas, we’re going to track that ourselves. Now we’re going to track who you meet with, when you meet with them and why you meet with them. So we cannot necessarily stop ExxonMobil or any of these companies for reaching out. But what we will decide is, Are you on the dirty list? Are you on the list of members of Congress who willingly accept meetings with these people? And if so, why? He named the member of Congress that are key to his work, the person from Exxon, right? Are you on that list and what lists do you want to be on? What side of history do you want to end up on as it relates to the climate crisis? Our stance at 350.org is that you can declare yourself an ally to the people who are unfortunately being impacted by climate change. Or, you can declare yourself an ally to the fossil fuel industry.

SCOTT HARRIS: Natalie, what’s your opinion of how the United States corporate media outlets have covered this revelation about ExxonMobil’s behind the scenes role in Congress, commenting directly on this guy, Keith McCoy from ExxonMobil and what he said to these Greenpeace activists.

NATALIE MEBANE: Honestly, I think overall, it hasn’t been covered extensively. Most people I know don’t actually know what occurred last week, Wednesday. And they were, you know, informed about the story. I think that it’s not a surprise to most people, but at the same time, I don’t feel that it has been publicized to the point that it just should be. We have a corporation who we already knew, already knew was behind the scenes destroying our climate. Admitting openly how they do it, why they do it, what occurs. So it’s not that we are surprised by what ExxonMobil did. It’s just that at this point, you cannot deny what is happening. So, my responses in terms of any mainstream media sources who have not covered it, you do not need to look at climate change as a mistake. Climate change is not a mistake, it is intentional. It is intentional based on actions of individuals who have not cared about the existence of humanity. And what we saw last week from these recordings from ExxonMobil is everything that we suspected they were guilty of, they are in fact guilty of.

SCOTT HARRIS: What are the priorities of your group 350.org in negotiations that are ongoing right now about Biden’s infrastructure plan?

NATALIE MEBANE: So the number one thing that we feel like we have to get through this infrastructure plan is ending fossil fuel subsidies. So this is the thing that a lot of people don’t think about. The United States government pays directly from taxpayer dollars, tens of billions of dollars to fossil fuel companies just to exist. From a variety of estimates, the United States government pays about $40 billion a year towards fossil fuel companies just to exist. So one of the number one things we’re fighting within this infrastructure fight is to end all fossil fuel subsidies. Now President Biden himself has actually said that he wants to end fossil fuel subsidies, which is great. But as we saw last week and a short time ago, there was some news about whether or not his new legislation will include climate provisions. Now, what we are pushing for at 350.org is that we understand that any infrastructure bill needs to include fossil fuel infrastructure in there, in terms of eliminating fossil infrastructure and fully investing in clean energy.

We talk about whether clean energy can compete. How do you compete when the actual federal government gives away billions of dollars to fossil fuel companies just to exist? So that’s the number one thing we’re fighting for. We have many more things overall. We want a clean energy standard, a standard by which every state has to make to provide electricity to people in this country. The reason why we have to have a clean energy bill within the infrastructure package is because you cannot at this point in 2021, pretend that infrastructure and climate are not the same thing.

For more information, visit 350.org.

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