According to a new report by the watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), ExxonMobil sent teams of lobbyists to meet with industry-friendly Republican state attorneys general to help stave off a flurry of investigations about the company’s role in obscuring the link between carbon dioxide and climate change, a cover-up which extends as far back as the 1970’s.
The news comes the same week that the environmental advocacy group Conservation Law Foundation filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil for placing Massachusetts communities into harm's way, as a result of this cover-up and its climate change implications.
ExxonMobil is currently being investigated by as many as 20 different state attorneys general for this cover-up, which DeSmog has covered extensively. Exxon has decried the investigations as “politically motivated” witch-hunts designed to intimidate the company and gain political points with American voters.
However, the CMD report specifically calls out a private meeting between Exxon lobbyists and GOP state prosecutors that took place in July in Colorado at a Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) summit. (You can also listen to audio and read a transcript from the summit.)
At this meeting, lobbyist Myron Ebell of the Exxon-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute and Trump campaign energy adviser pushed the attorneys general to help halt the “climate inquisition” against Exxon.
Here is what the report has to say about the level of influence that lobbyists can have at these luxurious fundraising summits for public prosecutors:
The Center for Media and Democracy has previously found that corporations can pay a premium rate RAGA membership fee of up to $125,000 for the privilege of holding private briefings with attorneys general and their staff, as well as attending the annual meeting. The conference provides ample opportunity for attorneys general to directly solicit campaign contributions from corporate representatives during private meetings, informal conversations and leisure activities — like a golf tournament, zip lining, and a tour of the Olympic training center.
According to materials reviewed by CMD, since 2015 RAGA has received at least $100,000 from ExxonMobil, $350,000 from Koch Industries, $85,000 from Southern Company, $378,250 from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), and $250,000 from Murray Energy. In total, fossil fuel interests, utilities and their trade groups have given more than $2.25 million to RAGA since 2015.
Earlier this year, thirteen Republican attorneys general penned a letter to other state prosecutors warning them that the climate-related investigation into Exxon was a bad idea.
Their letter used Exxon-talking points about the investigations, calling them little more than political maneuvering by elected officials and arguing that the approach “threatens free speech.”
The meetings and discussion at the RAGA summit appear to continue that close relationship with Exxon's interests.
CMD also has helped make this connection between the Republican Attorneys General Association and fossil fuel interests on the issue of efforts to fight the Clean Power Plan, which would regulate greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation.
Just a week after the 2015 RAGA summit, in which Murray Energy and Southern Company paid to meet privately with Republican attorneys general on this topic, these and other fossil fuel interests joined dozens of state prosecutors in suing the federal government to stop the implementation of the plan.
At that same conference, Murray Energy and coal front group, American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), paid for the privilege of sitting on a panel with three GOP attorneys general to discuss “The Dangerous Consequences of the Clean Power Plan & Other EPA Rules.”
The Republican Attorneys General Association seems to be quite effectively showing its wealthy donors how to reach Republican state prosecutors on issues related to climate change and fossil fuels, and ExxonMobil is following suit in an attempt to cover up its cover-up.
The Huffington Post recently pointed out that the extent of this cover-up could stretch as far back as the 1940’s:
In a more recent investigation, the Washington-based Center for International Environmental Law uncovered documents that show the oil industry, including Humble Oil (now ExxonMobil), was on notice about the potential role of fossil fuels in CO2 emissions no later than 1957 and “shaping science to shape public opinion” even earlier, in the 1940s.
What’s really at stake in these investigations and lawsuits is knowledge and accountability. The attorneys general pursuing investigations against Exxon are trying to uncover the extent of the cover-up. They want to know about all of the channels used to disseminate pseudo-science, how much money the company spent to cover up the truth about climate change, where that money went, and the names of the people involved.
ExxonMobil is already challenging these investigations in states across the country, with mixed results.
This new information from the Center for Media and Democracy should add more ammunition to the already-bountiful evidence of Exxon's efforts to discredit the science of climate change.
In addition, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating ExxonMobil’s approach to valuing its assets in a world of laws and agreements regulating greenhouse gas emissions. However, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, is expanding his probe of environmental groups and attorneys general related to the “Exxon Knew” campaign to include the SEC. This latest probe is “requesting information about the purpose, scope, and origin of the SEC’s investigation into Exxon.”
The Conservation Law Foundation's lawsuit on behalf of Mystic River communities threatened by climate change and Exxon's actions is yet another interesting approach to holding the company accountable.