Landmark FTC complaint hits Chevron on climate

Carlos Anchondo, E&E News reporter

Published: Wednesday, March 17, 2021Chevron Corp. offices in Houston. Photo credit: Jonathan McIntosh/Flickr

Chevron Corp. offices in Houston. Jonathan McIntosh/Flickr

Three environmental groups filed a first-of-its-kind complaint this week with the Federal Trade Commission, alleging that Chevron Corp. misled consumers about its commitment to reducing fossil fuel production.

Earthworks, Global Witness and Greenpeace USA called on the federal agency to investigate Chevron for making “false and misleading claims,” saying that the oil major deceived the public by making it seem as though its clean energy actions are a significant portion of its business. According to the complaint, Chevron spent 0.2% of its capital expenditures on low-carbon energy sources between 2010 and 2018.

The groups’ petitioned the FTC citing the agency’s Green Guides, which were developed to “help marketers avoid making environmental claims that mislead consumers.” The complaint is the first calling on the FTC to use those guides to crack down on a fossil fuel company for allegedly misleading the public over the climate and environmental impact of its operations.

Misleading statements appeared in online advertisements, on television and across social media, including platforms like Facebook and Twitter, according to the complaint. In a release, the groups said Chevron’s violation of the FTC’s Green Guides include claims that “mislead consumers with deceptive jargon such as ‘reducing emissions intensity’ while continuing to increase overall oil and gas extraction and production.”

Anusha Narayanan, a climate campaign manager at Greenpeace USA, said in a statement that as Chevron faces “widespread public support for climate action, the company is misrepresenting its role in the climate crisis and deceptively casting itself as an ally.” The environmental groups said they are requesting the removal of “misleading marketing claims, the dissemination of corrective statements, and the assessment of appropriate relief according to the law.”

In a statement, Chevron spokesperson Sean Comey said: “The allegations are frivolous. We engage in honest conversations about the energy transition. We believe the future of energy is lower carbon and are working to help the world achieve that goal. We are taking action to reduce the carbon intensity of our operations and assets, increase the use of renewables and offsets in support of our business and invest in low-carbon technologies to enable commercial solutions.”

Comey pointed to various climate commitments Chevron made in a report earlier this month, including goals such as eliminating routine flaring by 2030 and curbing the intensity of carbon dioxide and methane emissions.

David Turnbull, strategic communications director at Oil Change International, was among those to criticize Chevron’s focus on intensity targets last week after the company’s virtual investor day, saying, “Intensity targets are absolutely no replacement for absolute production cuts.”

Yesterday, Julieta Biegner, a U.S. communications and campaign officer at Global Witness, said FTC’s Green Guides were designed to prohibit companies “from misleading consumers with egregious claims about the environmental impacts of their products” and called on the agency to take quick action.

A FTC spokesperson confirmed that the agency had received the complaint. The environmental groups are represented by Richman Law & Policy, a social justice law firm based in Irvington, N.Y.