Tillerson Confirmation Another Reminder of Fecklessness of #ExxonKnew Campaign

Today, a five year campaign by wealthy anti-fossil fuel foundations to demonize the oil and gas industry was dealt its biggest blow yet as the Senate voted to confirm former ExxonMobil President and CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.

This news comes after #ExxonKnew activists proclaimed at the time of the nomination announcement to anyone who would listen that Tillerson’s hearing would provide them with a major opportunity and platform to introduce #ExxonKnew to a much wider audience – and potentially allow it to pick up some momentum.

Let’s take a quick walk down memory lane, back when Jamie Henn of said that “this hearing could become a Big Tobacco-like moment, and that the confirmation hearings would be turned “into a full-scale investigation … we’ll make sure that Senators are asking every single question possible about Exxon’s deception and Tillerson’s participation in it.” Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists said, “Of the candidates I’ve seen, none would fare worse [in confirmation hearings] than Rex Tillerson.” They organized (poorly attended) rallies across the county and Tom Steyer, through his NextGen Climate organization, pumped millions into anti-Tillerson ads.

Of course, none of it turned out the way they hoped – Tillerson sailed through without a scratch and was just confirmed by a bipartisan vote of 56-43 to become the United States’ chief diplomat.

In other words, #ExxonKnew has failed spectacularly, and as Bloomberg Government rightly put it, the “only reasonable response to this is a sigh and an eye roll.”

It all goes back to 2012 in La Jolla

Last month, Politico reported,

“Liberal hopes of forcing Tillerson to testify before Congress were dashed Nov. 8 when Republicans maintained control of the Senate and easily held onto the House.”

The pipe dream of forcing ExxonMobil to testify before congress goes all the way back to the now infamous 2012 conference in La Jolla, where activists met to brainstorm how they could use racketeering laws to force a climate investigation into the company. As they put it in their report on the conference,

“First, lawsuits are not the only way to win the release of documents. As one participant noted, congressional hearings can yield documents. In the case of tobacco, for instance, the infamous ‘Doubt is our product’ document came out after being subpoenaed by Congress.”

They also suggested that “State attorneys general can also subpoena documents, raising the possibility that a single sympathetic state attorney general might have substantial success in bringing key internal documents to light.” (emphasis added) They may have found their sympathetic AG in Schneiderman, but that didn’t exactly go as planned.

Immediately after issuing a subpoena to ExxonMobil, Schneiderman went on a media blitz to trumpet it, even gathering other Democratic AGs to join him in a March 29 press conference with Al Gore.

But now those same AGs are running for the hills. Virgin Islands AG Claude Walker, who announced his subpoena at the March 29 press conference, has since been forced to rescind it, and FOIA’d emails revealed that the other AGs in Schneiderman’s climate coalition have distanced themselves from his efforts. The Virginia AG’s office said it makes them “nervous” to say they are working together, while the Iowa AG’s office called Schneiderman a “wild card” and apparently tried to get out of attending the press conference. Another set of FIOA’d emails revealed the Delaware AGs office suddenly pulled out of a Common Interest Agreement (in which parties planned to keep their work concealed from the public records requests).

The only AGs left standing in the #ExxonKnew crusade are Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, but things aren’t going so well for them. Late last year, a federal judge issued a discovery order first to Healey and then to Schneiderman to determine if they were using “bias and prejudgment” to engage in a “bad faith” pursuit of ExxonMobil. In other words, the investigators are now under investigation.

Working against their own climate cause

Of course, the great irony of this entire effort is the fact that scientists and prominent research institutions have concluded that it’s thanks in large part to natural gas production and use that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have hit a 27 year low. Even the IPCC has credited the fracking boom and U.S. natural gas for reducing emissions linked to climate change:

“A key development since AR4 is the rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal-drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply and allowed for a more extensive switching of power and heat production from coal to gas (IEA, 2012b); this is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.” (emphasis added)

The Paris-based International Energy Agency has just reaffirmed the large role fracking has played in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, with even its Executive Director Fatih Birol tweeting,

ExxonMobil is the largest natural gas producer in the United States and therefore been has been one of the principal contributors to the decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. If activists actually cared about reducing emissions, they would celebrate this fact. Instead, they continue clinging desperately to a failed campaign.

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