Green groups file FTC complaint against Chevron over climate claims

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three environmental groups filed a false advertising complaint against Chevron with the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday, alleging that the U.S. oil major has overstated its investment in renewable energy and actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

FILE PHOTO: An entrance sign at the Chevron refinery, located near the Houston Ship Channel, is seen in Pasadena, Texas, U.S., May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

The groups - Global Witness, Greenpeace and Earthworks - said their complaint is the first to petition the FTC to use its “Green Guides” against an oil company for misleading consumers about its actions to combat climate change. The commission’s 2012 guidelines aim to prevent companies from making false environmental claims.

The commission, which enforces rules against deceptive advertising, warned companies nine years ago that they should make environmental claims - such as “compostable” - for their products only if they can prove that they are true and if they are significant.

The groups said the complaint will force the Biden Administration to decide how it will respond to “greenwashing” campaigns by oil and gas companies as part of its broader plans to combat climate change.

“This is a first test to see if they [the Biden administration] will follow through with their commitment to hold big polluters accountable,” said Julie Anne Miranda-Brobeck, a spokeswoman for Global Witness. She added that the FTC plays an important role in forcing companies to be truthful about their climate friendly claims.

Chevron called the complaint “frivolous” and said it is investing $3 billion between 2021 and 2028 “to advance the energy transition.”

“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,” spokesman Sean Comey said.

The FTC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Public scrutiny of oil company ads over their climate claims has grown in recent years with activists and some ad industry figures are calling on advertising agencies to identify or dump their Big Oil clients.

Additionally, recent lawsuits by four U.S. states and the District of Columbia allege “greenwashing” by oil companies, accusing them of making “misleading and deceptive” claims.

The lawsuits do not name the ad agencies as defendants, but they do single out at least 15 campaigns, including Chevron’s “Human Energy” and “We Agree” ads.

The green groups said in their complaint that despite Chevron’s ads touting their investment in renewables, the company spent only 0.2% of its capital expenditures – roughly $26 million a year of its $13 billion average annual capital expenditure on lower-carbon energy sources.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Dan Grebler