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Senator Bernie Sanders wants fossil fuel execs to testify to the budget committee

Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has called on three oil and gas executives to testify next Thursday at a hearing on climate change. 

BP America Chairman and President David C. Lawler, Chevron CEO and Chairman Michael Wirth and ExxonMobil Chair and CEO Darren W. Woods were invited to participate in a hearing titled, "The Cost of Inaction on Climate Change."

In an interview with CBS News, Sanders said that Lawler already declined the request, sent Tuesday. BP America declined to comment to CBS News.

Lawler declining "tells me that these guys don't want to answer hard questions," said Sanders.

He pointed to past examples of oil and gas companies withholding and distorting information to the public in order to make their production appear less dangerous. Sanders called this "one of the scandals of our lifetime." 

"These companies are producing a significant percentage of the carbon that we use, which is destroying our planet, and we want to know what they are doing to transform their companies away from fossil fuel," Sanders said. 

In 2019, the independent research organization Climate Accountability Institute ranked the world's leading oil, gas, and coal companies and their collective carbon emissions dating back to 1965. They found that 20 international companies accounted for more than a third of all global emissions in that span. In that group of 20, Chevron was the leading investor-owned company, with ExxonMobil and BP close behind. 

Global companies' emissions from 1965 to 2017
This graph shows companies' emissions from 1965 to 2017 and each companies' proportion of the global total. Climate Accountability Institute

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in the U.S. is from burning fossil fuels — crude oil, coal, dry natural gas and natural gas plant liquids — for electricity, heat and transportation. America is the second leading global greenhouse gas emitter, behind China. 

CBS News reached out to Chevron and ExxonMobil about their executives attending but did not hear back. 

This is not the first time a corporate executive has passed on Sanders' request to testify. Last month, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos declined to appear before the Senate Budget Committee.

Sanders sees the committee's responsibility as fighting the climate crisis by encouraging corporations take the necessary measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions, thereby saving billions of federal dollars spent in the wake of extreme weather and natural disasters. 

In 2020, there were 22 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in the U.S. —  a record year. Those events caused $95 billion in damages, the fourth-highest inflation-adjusted annual cost total since 1980, according to NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information.

"What the leading experts in the world are telling us is we have five or six years to move away from fossil fuel or else there would be irreparable damage in our country and on our planet. So we are up against an enormous crisis and we've got to move a lot more aggressively than we are today," said Sanders.

Sanders called President Joe Biden's infrastructure package, which dedicates hundreds of billions of dollars to fighting climate change and creating green-energy jobs, a "thoughtful plan" but is not a full-throated supporter. Asked why not support and pass Mr. Biden's plan as-is and push for a more progressive package in the future, Sanders argued that was not the pathway to more progressive policy. 

"It doesn't really work like that," he said. "I don't think the president would tell you that it works like that."

"The way our system of government works is the president makes that proposal and now Congress has got to take a hard look at it and see where we go with it," Sanders said.

The budget hearing will take place at 11 a.m ET on Thursday, April 15. Confirmed majority witnesses include David Wallace-Wells, deputy editor at New York Magazine; Bob Litterman, Ph.D. and founding partner of Kepos Capital; and Joseph Stiglitz, professor of economics at Columbia University. 

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