Exxon Leaving ALEC: Important But Insufficient Step in Addressing Company's History of Climate Science Denial, Campaigners Say

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Exxon Mobil forecourt

ExxonMobil has announced it will leave the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate lobby group known for its attempts to block climate action. Campaigners cautiously welcomed the decision, though said Exxon had to do more to prove it was committed to addressing climate change.

Exxon’s decision comes after opposition to ALEC’s attempt last December to get the Environmental Protection Agency to abandon its position that climate change proposes a risk to human health.

ALEC links corporations to state legislators with the aim of drafting legislation to inhibit or repeal pro-climate policies. The group is bankrolled by the Koch brothers, the US’s leading climate science denial funders. The Nation reports that “no-one knows how much the Kochs have given ALEC in total, but the amount likely exceeds $1 million”.

ALEC also has strong support from a US “web of denial” in its mission to block climate action, with backing from climate science denial organisations such as the Heartland Institute and Heritage Foundation.

Exxon’s decision to leave ALEC comes after other corporate giants also decided to cut ties with the group, including BP, Royal Dutch Shell Group, and Ford.

The decision to split from ALEC has been cautiously welcomed by environmental organisations as a significant step towards climate action from Big Oil companies.

Ben Ratner, Senior Director of the Environmental Defence Fund, described it in a press release as an “important statement”, since companies “seeking to show corporate social responsibility” should “distance themselves from groups that pursue agendas harmful to public health and the environment”.

However, campaigners are asking whether Exxon’s break from ALEC is enough to compensate for decades of effort to stymie climate action.

Fossil Fuel Accountability Campaign Director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, Kathy Mulvey, said in a statement that “the company has a lot more to do to set things straight”, since Exxon still gives $1million per year to the US Chamber of Commerce, which “refused as recently as 2014 to acknowledge that global warming is caused by human activity and funded a 2017 report attacking the Paris climate agreement”.

Jesse Brag of Corporate Accountability, told DeSmog UK specificially “Exxon's departure from ALEC is a clear indication that the Big Polluter is feeling the heat. Make no mistake, despite what it would have people believe, Exxon isn't changing, it's caving. People and environmental groups have for years put pressure on Exxon for it's use of trade associations like ALEC to do it's climate denial bidding. It's exit from ALEC is a clear indication that not even Exxon, one of the biggest funders of climate denial and corporate polluters in the world, is immune to public pressure.”

Responding to Exxon's decision not to renew its membership, ALEC said it “values partnership with ExxonMobil and stakeholders across the business community. Organization government relations strategies change over time, and we have valued ExxonMobil’s work and leadership with ALEC on STEM education, among other issues.”

A report by climate non-profit Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) in 2017 put ExxonMobil alongside Saudi Aramco and Russian gas giant Gazprom at the top their list of the world’s biggest emitters.

Greenpeace has documented how Exxon knew about the harmful effects of fossil fuels as far back as the 1950s, and yet the company has been responsible for pouring as much as $34.6 million into spreading climate science denial.

Over the last few years, ExxonMobil has come under fire numerous times for lobbying in the UK against electric vehicles, funding Congress and corporate lobby groups to deny climate change, and knowingly misleading the public about the reality of the issue.

ExxonMobil has been contacted for comment.

Updated 13/07/18: Jesse Bragg, Corporate Accountability, statement added

Main image credit: Mike Mozart/Flickr CC BY 2.0

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