Earlier this week, Exxon’s PR juggernaut won a victory as they achieved some breathless coverage of their contributions toward an effort by former Republican officials to push a carbon fee and dividend policy proposal forward.
But, if you get beyond the smoke and mirrors of Exxon’s public relations, you’ll see this effort for what it is: yet another coverup by Exxon to allow it to continue its dirty ways and avoid accountability for its past.
On Monday it was reported that ExxonMobil will be contributing $1 million over two years to Americans for Carbon Dividends, the lobbying arm of the so-called Climate Leadership Council. The group – co-chaired by former lawmakers Trent Lott and John Breaux — is supporting a plan created by, among others, former Secretaries of State, James Baker and George Shultz. That’s $500,000 for each of the next two years.
Since they stopped explicitly denying the science of our climate crisis outright, ExxonMobil has claimed that they support a carbon tax as their preferred option for reducing emissions. However, many have rightly pointed out that their “support” has thus far been lip service, with no actual efforts being made to make such a tax a reality. So, this million dollar donation is clearly aimed at putting those criticisms to rest.
However, it’s important to put this $1 million in its proper context. For any modest nonprofit environmental organization, a $1 million grant is certainly nothing to complain about. But for ExxonMobil, one of the very largest corporations ever known to humankind, $1 million amounts to less than a drop in the bucket, both when compared to its overall market capitalization and also compared to its history of spending massive sums on lobbying. In fact, it is 1/150th of the spending Exxon has made since 2008 on lobbying efforts. Those $150,000,000+ in lobbying dollars went to efforts to eliminate the crude oil export ban, protect oil subsidies, lobby against climate policies, and other anti-climate efforts.
So about that $1 million from @ExxonMobil $XOM for a weak carbon fee & dividend scheme that would eliminate their legal liability for climate damages. They've spent 150 times more since 2008 to protect oil subsidies, weaken enviro protections, block climate regs, etc. pic.twitter.com/O6YMEQkbyu
— David Turnbull (@david_turnbull) October 10, 2018
What’s more? The Baker-Shultz plan is, as 350.org’s Jamie Henn put it, “a scam.”
Let’s break it down:
First, the Baker-Shultz plan would completely wipe away any potential legal liability for fossil fuel industry actors for damages from climate change it is responsible for. ExxonMobil has recently been targeted by multiple lawsuits and investigations, seeking compensation for the millions of dollars over multiple decades it spent to deceive the public and sow doubt in climate science, thus delaying action to address the problem. A $1 million dollar contribution that could help eliminate any possibility of real liability for climate damages is a no-brainer investment for a company like ExxonMobil.
Second, the Baker-Shultz plan would eliminate the authority of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions via the Clean Air Act. This authority was won in a hard-fought legal battle that was ultimately decided at the Supreme Court. It allowed for the EPA to pursue climate regulations under the Obama Administration and was a critical backstop for allowing climate policy to move forward even whilst Congress was deadlocked on the issue (thanks to the millions in fossil fuel dollars flowing to members of Congress). Eliminating this authority is a key goal for the industry, and a constant threat from the Trump administration as well.
Finally, the Baker-Shultz plan won’t solve our climate crisis. Recently, at a press conference by the IPCC as it released its distressing new report, a reporter asked IPCC authors if a carbon tax alone could be the solution. Their response? Laughter. We all know that pricing carbon may be a part of the equation, but any suggestion that pricing carbon is the silver bullet is simply laughable. See this from the recent IPCC report: “The literature indicates that the pricing of emissions is relevant but needs to be complemented with other policies to drive the required changes in line with 1.5°C-consistent cost-effective pathways.”
For more, check out this great tweet thread from Geoffrey Supran (click through to see the full thread):
Recently, Exxon pledged to give $1 million over 2 yrs to support a carbon tax advocacy group. The reporting on this has been breathless & glowing, and for Exxon's PR team, a terrific return-on-investment. But let's pull back the curtain a bit on this carbon tax plan. THREAD. 1/n
— Geoffrey Supran (@GeoffreySupran) October 11, 2018
At the end of the day, this contribution from ExxonMobil is nothing more than a fig leaf. It’s a coverup. It’s an attempt to avoid criticism while advocating for eliminating the company’s own legal liability and the neutering of other climate policy mechanisms. Don’t be fooled.