A U.S. congressional committee has invited key board members at four oil majors to testify in February about the industry’s role in climate change and spreading “disinformation,” turning up the heat on big oil after lawmakers grilled their CEOs last year.

The hearing of officials from Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron and BP who were elected to spur change at these companies over environmental issues is scheduled for Feb. 8. It is the next phase of a House oversight committee investigation into the role of fossil fuel companies in blocking action on climate change and misrepresenting the industry’s efforts to address it.


Oil and Gas Investor Op-ed: The Overreach Committee

The panel concluded the first of these hearings last year featuring the CEOS of oil majors by issuing subpoenas for documents on what company scientists have said about climate change and any funds spent to mislead the public on global warming.

“We’ve only begun our investigation into the fossil fuel industry’s role in causing the climate crisis and spreading disinformation,” panel chair U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney said in a statement on Jan. 21.

By turning its sights on climate change-focused board members, the committee plans to scrutinize corporate pledges to cut emissions and invest in cleaner energy sources.

“These are board members who ran on changing these institutions from the inside,” chair of the oversight panel's environment subcommittee Ro Khanna told Reuters. “They will have to chose between their life convictions or fealty to their CEOs.”

Among the board members selected to testify include Alexander Karsner, a strategist at Google owner Alphabet Inc. who won one of three seats for activist hedge fund Engine No. 1 to Exxon Mobil’s board to address growing investor concerns about global warming.

The committee also sent a letter to Susan Avery, an atmospheric scientist and former president of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who was brought on to Exxon's board in 2017 as a climate expert.

The letters said board members play a key governance role in addressing climate change by overseeing and guiding companies’ climate strategies, promoting transparency and holding management accountable to meaningful emissions reductions. Each of the four companies invited to the hearing have announced net-zero emission targets by 2050 and have claimed that their plans are aligned with the goals of the Paris agreement.

The panel will focus on the fact that the companies’ net-zero plans are mostly focused on their internal operations, not on the emissions released when consumers burn the fossil fuels they produce.

For example, Exxon Mobil on Jan. 18 announced a net-zero plan focused on its operations—not on so-called “scope three” emissions from consumers who buy their products.

Exxon Mobil spokesperson Casey Norton did not comment on the new hearing but said the company has “provided staff with more than 200,000 pages of documents, including board materials and internal communications.”

The board members were not immediately available for comment.