Blumenthal, Colleagues to Exxon: Are You Still Funding Climate Denial?

(Washington, DC) – In recent weeks investigative reports from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times have shown that ExxonMobil knew about the link between carbon pollution and climate change as far back as the 1970s, and not only failed to act on it, but actively funded a campaign into the mid-2000s to sow public doubt about the facts.  Now, a group of U.S. Senators are asking Exxon whether it is continuing to fund such efforts through an anonymous dark-money group called Donors Trust.

In a letter sent today to ExxonMobil President and CEO Rex Tillerson, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), along with U.S Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) point out that any continued funding of these efforts on the part of ExxonMobil through such a front group would be inconsistent with its recent public statements on the issue.

“Over the years, we have seen Exxon support climate denial and anti-climate policy advocacy through a variety of foundations and advocacy groups, such as the Heartland Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute,” the Senators write.  “In the mid-2000s, ExxonMobil pulled its funding from some of those organizations.  Soon thereafter, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund began to increasingly support climate denial groups….  The correlation between ExxonMobil’s decision not to fund some groups openly associated with climate change denial, and the increase in anonymous funding from a group that does is ‘suggestive of an effort’1 to simply reroute its support.  That would not be consistent with [Exxon VP Ken Cohen’s] claim that ExxonMobil continues to work in an ‘open and transparent way.’

“To assess the accuracy of Mr. Cohen’s statement, please detail whether ExxonMobil, the Exxon Foundation, ExxonMobil executives,  or any of your company’s affiliates has contributed or matched employee donations to Donors Trust and Donors Capital since 2000, and if so, how much each has contributed,” the Senators conclude.

The full text of the letter is below.  The PDF of the signed letter is available here.

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October 28, 2015

Dear Mr. Tillerson,

I’ve been following ExxonMobil’s response to the recent investigations into your company by the Los Angeles Times, InsideClimate News, and others. You and other Exxon spokespeople acknowledge that Exxon has been conducting climate change research since the 1970s. A post on ExxonMobil’s website on October 21, 2015 quotes Ken Cohen, ExxonMobil’s vice president of public and government affairs, as saying ExxonMobil has worked to develop “climate science in partnership with governments and academic institutions, and did and continue[s] to do that work in an open and transparent way.”

Over the years, we have seen Exxon support climate denial and anti-climate policy advocacy through a variety of foundations and advocacy groups, such as the Heartland Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. In the mid-2000s, ExxonMobil pulled its funding from some of those organizations. Soon thereafter, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund began to increasingly support climate denial groups. According to research by Dr. Robert Brulle of Drexel University, the Donors Trust/Donors Capital Fund operation does double duty: it is the “central component” and “predominant funder” of the denier apparatus, and at the same time it is the “black box that conceals the identity of contributors.”

The correlation between ExxonMobil’s decision not to fund some groups openly associated with climate change denial, and the increase in anonymous funding from a group that does is “suggestive of an effort”1 to simply reroute its support. That would not be consistent with Mr. Cohen’s claim that ExxonMobil continues to work in an “open and transparent way.” To assess the accuracy of Mr. Cohen’s statement, please detail whether ExxonMobil, the Exxon Foundation, or any of your company’s affiliates has contributed or matched employee donations to Donors Trust and Donors Capital since 2000, and if so, how much each has contributed.

Sincerely,

Sheldon Whitehouse
Richard Blumenthal
Edward J. Markey
Elizabeth Warren

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