Tillerson Refuses to Acknowledge ExxonMobil’s Efforts to Deceive the Public on Climate Change
Kathy Mulvey of the Union of Concerned Scientists says the oil giant is continuing to avoid accountability for its disinformation campaign
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.
The legal investigation into what Exxon knew about climate change and when they knew it took a turn on Wednesday when a Massachusetts judge ruled that ExxonMobil must turn over 40 years’ worth of internal documents related to its research on climate change to State Attorney General Maura Healey.
Now, Healey, along with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, began their probes last year after several investigative stories published last year revealed the Exxon knew about climate change for decades, and they intentionally worked to mislead investors and the public about the risks — and all the while the confirmation hearings for the appointment of now former CEO of ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State were also taking place on Wednesday.
With us to discuss the Exxon case and what the ruling yesterday may mean is Kathy Mulvey. Kathy is the accountability campaign manager and advocate for the Climate and Energy Team at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She is the lead author on the recently released in-depth analysis titled “The Climate Accountability Scorecard: Ranking Major Fossil Fuel Companies on Climate Deception, Disclosure and Action”. Kathy, welcome back to The Real News.
KATHY MULVEY: Hi, Kim. Thanks a lot for having me.
KIM BROWN: Kathy, what do we know about what Exxon knew about their activities and the effects on climate change based on the investigative reports released by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Inside Climate Change and the Los Angeles Times?
KATHY MULVEY: We know that, actually, Exxon was conducting cutting-edge climate science decades ago and was aware of the risks of climate change, potentially catastrophic risks of climate change, and yet instead of revamping its business model to affect that threat and that reality, the company chose instead to embark of a decades-long campaign of disinformation about climate science.
KIM BROWN: Kathy, let’s take a look at this clip of Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil, now the nominee to be Secretary of State under President-elect Donald Trump, as this is what he was seeming to be dodging questions from Virginia Senator Tim Kaine on the Exxon climate change allegations. Let’s take a look.
TIM KAINE: Are these conclusions about ExxonMobil’s history of promoting and funding climate science denial, despite its internal awareness of the reality of climate change, during your tenure with the company true or false?
REX TILLERSON: Senator, since I’m no longer with ExxonMobil, I’m in no position to speak on their behalf. The question would have to be put to them.
TIM KAINE: I’m not asking you to speak on ExxonMobil’s behalf. I’m asking you whether those allegations about ExxonMobil’s knowledge of climate science and decision to fund and promote a view contrary to its awareness of the science, whether those allegations are true of false.
REX TILLERSON: The question would have to be put to ExxonMobil.
TIM KAINE: And let me ask you, do you lack the knowledge to answer my question or are you refusing to answer my question?
REX TILLERSON: A little of both.
(end video clip)
KIM BROWN: Kathy, that’s a little bit of funny and unfunny all at the same time. So what do you make of Tillerson’s answers to the Senate Committee today?
KATHY MULVEY: Shock. I was in the room for that. That was absolutely shocking. I mean, if he’s… here’s a guy who wants to be our next Secretary of State. If he’s refusing to answer questions from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that’s outrageous. And if he’s claiming that he lacks knowledge of the strategy of the company that he left just a week ago on climate change, well, that is also shocking. And if he’s claiming that he doesn’t know about how this company chose to attempt to really secure business as usual for its fossil fuel products against evidence of their potential risks to our climate and their impacts on our climate, then you really gotta wonder how did he keep his job as CEO for 10 years?
KIM BROWN: Kathy, tell us about the ruling yesterday by a Massachusetts judge. I mean, what does this mean for the case against ExxonMobil, and what do you think 40 years’ worth of internal documents might reveal?
KATHY MULVEY: Yeah. So, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has been investigating whether ExxonMobil violated any laws by deceiving its consumers and shareholders and the public about climate change. And it’s her duty to do that. It’s her duty to uphold consumer protection and other shareholder protection laws of the State of Massachusetts. And this ruling really affirms her right and her duty to do that, and it means that ExxonMobil, which is going forward under new CEO Darren Woods, will have to be accountable for the company’s ongoing actions to spread disinformation on climate change.
KIM BROWN: ExxonMobil has cited a political conspiracy when it tried to quash a subpoena from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on whether the oil giant mislead investors on climate risk, and Exxon also has cases now pending against Maura Healey and against Eric Schneiderman, so is there a conspiracy against ExxonMobil on the part of these Attorneys General?
KATHY MULVEY: No. These Attorneys General are doing their job and, in fact, fraud is not a protected activity by companies, and it’s not… it runs counter to… Rex Tillerson yesterday was talking about accountability, and the importance of accountability. What we see here is a company that is attempting to thwart means to hold it accountable to the public, that is refusing to disclose really important and vital information that the public has a right to know and that our officials who are charged with enforcing our laws have a right to know.
KIM BROWN: Congressman Lamar Smith, who is the Chairman of the House Science Committee, subpoenaed the two States Attorneys General that I mentioned earlier, Healey and Schneiderman, to obtain records of their investigations. And Smith also subpoenaed eight environmental organizations and legal groups — including yours, Kathy, the Union of Concerned Scientists. So, as much as you’re able to talk about that, how is that going?
KATHY MULVEY: Sure. I mean, we see Congressman Smith’s attack as an abuse of power and really an attempt to bully and intimidate the State Public Prosecutors and groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists that are carrying out our public interest mission. We’re not going to be intimidated. We’re going to continue to ensure that officials like Maura Healey in Massachusetts and Eric Schneiderman in New York have access to the best available science on which to really make determinations about the conduct of companies like ExxonMobil.
KIM BROWN: In terms of the future of possible censorship of climate science under the Trump administration, what can we do to guard against that?
KATHY MULVEY: Well, it’s really important to continue to stand up for science and to push back against efforts to intimidate and to potentially… we’ve seen concerning efforts like questionnaires out to the Department of Energy and other departments, and so it’s going to be really critically important in, for example, the State Department, if Rex Tillerson is confirmed as our Secretary of State, that the public continues to hold our officials to account and that the leadership role that the U.S. has played on climate change is bolstered, and that we don’t backtrack.
KIM BROWN: All right. We’ve been speaking with Kathy Mulvey. She is the Accountability Campaign Manager and an advocate for the Climate and Energy Team at the Union of Concerned Scientists. A Massachusetts judge ruled on Wednesday that Exxon, in fact, does have to turn over 40 years’ worth of internal documents to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey as a result of her investigation into what the company knew and when they knew it about the effects of their product, oil and gas, on climate change and global warming. Kathy, as always we appreciate having you on. Thank you.
KATHY MULVEY: Thanks a lot, Kim.
KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.