By Neela Banerjee
Dec. 22, 2016
After Donald Trump selected Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, ExxonMobil's chief executive was lauded by some in the media and climate policy experts as a possible moderating voice on climate change in a Trump administration where denial is shaping up to be orthodoxy. As chief of the nation's diplomacy, Tillerson will shepherd U.S. climate efforts abroad.
Many cited Exxon's acceptance that climate change poses significant risks, support of the Paris climate agreement and a carbon tax as reasons for their guarded optimism. But Exxon's actions and Tillerson's own off-the-cuff comments belie the official communications. The company has a long record of funding climate denial (which continued under Tillerson) and is under investigation for potentially defrauding investors by failing to tell them that it knew decades ago of the risks climate change posed to the bottom line. Tillerson has also overseen an expansion of Exxon's investment in developing Alberta's tar sands, some of the most carbon-heavy fuel in the world.
InsideClimate News has spent almost two years looking into Exxon's workings and has written dozens of stories on the company. Here's what we've learned about Tillerson and Exxon.
Does Exxon still fund climate denial?
In 2007, Exxon pledged in its corporate responsibility report that it would no longer contribute "to several public policy research groups whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner."
But over time, it became apparent that the company has not held to its pledge. During the last few years, reports based on Exxon's public filings have shown that the company continues to support politicians and organizations that sow doubt about climate change and work to halt action on it. That has prompted more than 100 U.S. earth scientists to call for their prestigious professional association, the American Geophysical Union, to stop accepting funding from Exxon.
The scientists pointed out that the company still supported, for instance, the American Enterprise Institute, whose fellow, Jonah Goldberg, falsely told Fox News in 2014 that it was "utterly fraudulent" that 97 percent of scientists actively doing research into climate change back the theory that it is driven by human activity, mostly fossil fuel use.
Exxon still funds groups such as the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that deny climate change and lobby against action to address it.
In recent years, many corporations, including energy companies such as BP and Shell, have dropped ALEC. Some, such as Google, have cited ALEC's obstructionist stance on climate change, while Exxon has given $1.7 million between 1998 and 2014 and was among the top funders of the annual ALEC conference in July 2016.
Exxon has also given $1.8 million in campaign contributions since 2007 to more than 100 members of Congress who deny climate change, such as Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.