Washington, D.C. –  In today’s Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee hearing, an influential group of Senators declared America needs to invest in clean energy to reduce our dependence on the global oil and gas market. Big Oil was also called out for prioritizing payments to their wealthy shareholders over boosting production to help consumers. A report released today found that in the weeks since Putin moved to invade Ukraine, Big Oil CEOs have personally profited to the tune of $99 million from selling shares in their companies.

Sen. Joe Manchin (WV), who chaired the hearing, said that in responding to the current energy crisis, Congress must keep in mind “the existential necessity of addressing climate change.” He called for a major boost in the manufacturing of clean energy products like wind turbines, batteries, and solar panels right here in the U.S. These statements are an extension of his months-long support for clean energy tax credits.

Whether Senator or witness, both sides quickly pointed out that oil and gas prices are set in a global market, and U.S. producers have little power over them. Sen. Cantwell (WA) said “as long as OPEC and the cartel can manipulate the world supply, we will definitely have challenges here at home. To me, that is why I think we need to do everything we can to diversify off this source and move forward.”

Senators went on to focus on holding fossil companies accountable for prioritizing profits at the expense of lower prices for consumers. Sen. Cortez Masto (NV) pressed a senior executive of Shell to commit to prioritizing lowering costs for consumers over paying dividends to their shareholders, which the executive refused to do. Sen. King (ME) said that after the pandemic, “the supply [of oil] didn’t come back because the oil industry made a conscious decision to invest in their shareholders rather than their production capability.”

Here are the key quotes from today’s hearing:

Sen. Manchin (WV):

“Now, let me close by making it clear that I am not saying to hell with our climate goals. […] We must also increase the manufacturing of energy products, including wind turbines, batteries, solar panels, nuclear materials and technology, pipelines with dual compatibility for natural gas and hydrogen, advanced materials, and anything else that will help us and our allies. That is a longer term plan, and one that Congress has clearly supported through these two historic pieces of legislation. And as the energy transition continues, we must be eyes wide open and responsive to solving the problems before us today, while working towards the vision we have for our future and doing our best to solve these problems before they are used as weapons against us or our allies.”

Sen. Cortez Masto (NV):

“The six largest publicly traded oil and gas companies, including Shell, reported combined profits of $90 billion for 2021. And on top of that, the oil and gas industry already receives an estimated $3.1 billion in taxpayer subsidies each year. In recent days, major oil companies in the United States have said that they would rather use their earnings from higher prices to boost payouts to shareholders and expand their operations slowly rather than rush to drill new or develop existing wells.”

Sen. King (ME):

“The price [of oil] went down because we had more supply than demand during the pandemic and production went down because of the collapse in demand. The demand came back, but the supply didn’t come back. Why didn’t the supply come back? Because the oil industry made a conscious decision to invest in their shareholders rather than their production capability. This past year, they’ve announced almost $40 billion of stock buybacks—which does nothing for production or anybody else except shareholders, and perhaps the executives—and about $50 billion in dividends. That’s money that could have gone into investment for production. And that’s the reality—that’s what’s driving this. It isn’t lease pauses on federal land, and it isn’t the Keystone pipeline. You’re straining at gnats and swallowing camels. The lease pause is a gnat. The Keystone pipeline—which was mostly for exports—is a gnat. The camel is the failure of the industry to respond to the increase in demand since the decline of the pandemic.”