Last week, I spoke at a press conference announcing an open letter to the Clinton Foundation asking that it return more than $1 million in donations it has received from Exxon in recent years. The letter, signed by 20 organizations and individuals, cited the blatant disconnect between the organization’s stated mission to address climate change and its acceptance of money from the fossil fuel industry, which has obfuscated the science around climate change. Chief among those companies is ExxonMobil.
When future historians pass judgment on the twenty-first century, Exxon will be at the top of the list committing the worst crimes against the earth and its inhabitants. In 1989, Exxon caused the devastating Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound of Alaska, spilling up to 30 million gallons of oil and despoiling a 1000 miles of pristine coast. When Lee Raymond (the former CEO and Chairman of Exxon) took over handling the accident, he played hardball in the litigation, defending the company’s actions after the spill, according to Steve Coll’s Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. Stubbornly refusing to acknowledge responsibility or to pay punitive fines, Raymond dragged litigation on for decades.
More recently, we can add climate chaos to Exxon’s list of crimes. The behemoth has done everything it can to derail action on climate change, adding to the company’s record of secrecy, intimidation and lies. In the 1990s, Raymond masterminded the disinformation campaign to cast doubt on the science around global warming and to bully climate scientists.
More recently, we can add climate chaos to Exxon’s list of crimes.
Raymond worked from a suite known as the “God Pod,” at the company’s headquarters known as Death Star. He was once quoted as saying, “I’m not a U.S. company, and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.” But, Exxon has benefited from decades of taxpayer subsidies and policy decisions made for the company.
In 2006, Rex Tillerson, a long-time company executive, replaced Raymond, but the culture of arrogance has remained unchanged. Tillerson moved the company into fracking in a big way. In 2009, Exxon acquired the large shale fracking company, XTO. Tillerson wholeheartedly supports fracking -- except when it’s in his backyard. He joined a lawsuit to stop construction of a fracking water tower in his community because it would cause truck traffic and noise.
Meanwhile, Exxon is also using its political clout internationally to push fracking. Over the past four years, it has spent at least $21 million lobbying the institutions of the European Union.
Exxon has expended enormous resources in Germany trying to change public opinion about fracking. Germany is a target because of the country’s commitment to a quick transition to energy efficiency and renewable energy. The company is attempting to disrupt the successful model of a major industrial nation shifting to sustainable energy. Exxon has funded an expensive propaganda campaign with full-page ads in leading newspapers and magazines and runs thirty-second TV spots about how environmentally friendly their operations are.
Under both Raymond and Tillerson, Exxon has played fast and loose in reporting its proven reserves in its filings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It has often failed to use approved accounting methods in reporting to the SEC, according to Coll. This can potentially lead to artificial overvaluation of stock, misleading investors and exaggerating the worth of the company’s assets.
This has been just the short list of Exxon’s bad behavior. It’s way past time for some accountability from Exxon. While it is positive that the Attorney Generals of three states and a U.S. territory are investigating the deceptive claims about climate change, we need a much wider investigation. In decades past, we’ve seen major Congressional hearings on the destructive behavior of the oil and gas industry, including Exxon. It’s time for our elected leaders to have the guts to pursue a real investigation in Congress and at the Department of Justice rather than currying favor from the oil and gas industry.
The Fossil Fuel Hand that Feeds the Clinton Foundation
It’s really unconscionable that the Clinton Foundation has partnered with Exxon and accepted donations from the company. The foundation also has many other donors from the oil and gas industry. Its board member, Frank Giustra, has very deep ties to the industry and has funded the foundation to the tune of over $25 million. He has founded several “natural resource” companies including the crude oil and gas exploration company Pacific Rubiales Energy (now called Pacific Exploration & Production). Giustra also sits on the board of directors for Petromamas Energy Inc., an oil and gas company with assets including 852,000 acres in Albania, 170,000 acres in France and 1.6 million acres in Australia. It has also accepted more large sums of money from Cheniere Energy, Chevron and others that profit from fracking and other forms of extreme energy extraction.
It’s not surprising that the Clinton Foundation Climate Initiative programs never discuss reducing fossil fuel use or transitioning to renewables. In fact CEO of the Clinton Climate Initiative, Dymphna van der Lans, says that they are moving away from focusing on single technologies like renewables.
We call on the Clinton Foundation to stop the hypocrisy and to immediately sever all relations with Exxon and dirty energy interests and to use their resources and the high profile of a former president to seriously address the cause of climate change—the production and use of dirty fossil fuels.