House Democrats hold hearing on PR firms’ work for oil companies

None of the agencies under investigation attended the hearing.

Image of Rep. Katie Porter
Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), shown here this year, chaired the hearing. (Photo credit: Getty Images).

WASHINGTON: House Democrats criticized PR agencies for their work on behalf of oil companies during a subcommittee hearing of the House Natural Resource Committee on Wednesday. 

The agencies were accused of misleading the public on climate change and going beyond traditional marketing techniques to get results for the fossil-fuel industry.

The hearing, titled, The Role of Public Relations Firms in Preventing Action on Climate Change, was chaired by Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA). 

Witnesses included former Edelman executive Christine Arena, now the founder and CEO of Generous Ventures, and Dr. Melissa Aronczyk, associate professor in the School of Communications and Information at Rutgers University. Amy Cooke, CEO of the John Locke Foundation, and Anne Lee Foster, former director of comms and community engagement at Colorado Rising, were also in attendance. 

The committee’s questions, based on a report from House Natural Resources Committee staff, were polarized along party lines. Porter and other Democratic committee members focused on energy companies’ extensive lobbying, and what they described as disinformation strategies and unethical tactics by their PR firms.

One example referenced throughout the hearing involved anti-fracking efforts in Colorado. Foster said that local oil corporations used a PR firm to create citizen groups designed to roadblock those gathering petition signatures to oppose fracking, according to Reuters.

The Republican committee members emphasized the nation’s dependence on oil and gas, the need for affordable energy and that both sides of the issue, including PR firms, should have protection of free speech. 

Story Partners, Singer Associates and Pac/West Communications were invited to attend the hearing but refused. Committee spokesperson Lindsay Gressard said FTI Consulting will not testify as it is working to submit the committee’s previously requested documents. 

The hearing comes after Edelman and Standard Bank Group recently mutually agreed not to extend their partnership beyond December 2022, reportedly due to the former’s refusal to work on East African Crude Oil Pipeline. Edelman has been repeatedly targeted by climate activists for its work with energy companies, and the firm has vowed to hold clients to climate change standards.


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