ExxonMobil — the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company — has had an interesting year. In September, two investigations by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times revealed that the company’s own scientists had recognized the dangers posed by climate change as far back as 1977, and yet did nothing about it. Those revelations sparked a cascade of calls from politicians demanding an investigation into whether or not Exxon knowingly mislead shareholders, and the public, about climate change. Currently, 17 attorneys general have subpoenaed Exxon for internal documents.
The increased public scrutiny, however, does not seem to be stopping Exxon from giving money to groups that actively fund climate misinformation and oppose climate legislation.
According to Exxon’s most recent disclosures on donations — first reported on over at DeSmogBlog — the company donated more than half a million dollars to groups that have either campaigned against climate legislation or have spread misinformation about climate change. According to DeSmogBlog, the most recent disclosures mean that Exxon has spent more than $33 million in donations to anti-climate groups since 1998.
One of the largest single donations — totaling $325,000 — was made to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think thank in Washington, D.C. The think tank has taken a decidedly contrarian stance on climate change, and has a record of trying to fund misinformation about the topic. The institute’s energy expert, Benjamin Zycher, has called evidence for anthropogenic climate change “ambiguous,” a stance that stands in direct opposition to the 97 percent of publishing climate scientists that say that warming patterns over the past century are likely due to human activity.
Beyond the American Enterprise Institute, Exxon also donated more than $50,000 to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a D.C. think tank that does not support action against climate change. ALEC has actively fought against renewable energy legislation across the country, and has called climate change a “historical phenomenon.”
Exxon donated $200,000 to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a New York-based think tank that advocates for free market solutions to economic problems. The Manhattan Institute has long downplayed the dangers of climate change, and has opposed solutions such as a price on carbon or limiting the amount of carbon that can be burned. Robert Bryce, a senior fellow with the think tank, has argued that both nuclear power and fracking need to be included in the global energy portfolio, despite the environmental dangers that they pose.
The National Black Congressional Caucus — a group that has vocally opposed the Clean Power Plan — also earned a $75,000 donation from Exxon. The group has received more than $800,000 from Exxon since 1988, and has fought against environmental regulation for decades.
Scientific studies have shown that the kind of funding that Exxon and other high-profile fossil fuel actors, like the Koch brothers, engage in has actually been extremely successful in shaping public perception about the climate debate. Groups that receive funding from Exxon and the Koch brothers are more likely to create and disseminate information that undermines the scientific consensus about climate change, even if the fossil fuel money is not specifically designated for that purpose.
On Monday, 19 senators plan to take to the floor to draw attention to the web of misinformation funded by fossil fuel companies like Exxon and political donors like the Koch brothers. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Al Franken (D-MN) are planning to introduce a resolution condemning the efforts of groups like Exxon to mislead the public about the dangers — and causes — of climate change.
Over on the House side, some politicians are taking a decidedly different tact with Exxon. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) has requested both state attorneys general and non-governmental groups hand over documents relating to their discussions of Exxon, climate change, and potential investigations to the House Science Committee.