Proposed Secretary of State and Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson’s ties to Russia deserve to be explored, but so does the issue whether Exxon has deceived investors and consumers regarding climate change. The Attorney Generals of Massachusetts and New York are investigating Exxon, the largest oil company in the world, regarding possible false and misleading statements in this area. As counsel for the Attorney General of Massachusetts put it, it appears that “Exxon knew by at least July, 1977 from its own scientists that the continued burning of fossil fuels was causing global temperatures to increase, that the impacts could be catastrophic, and that changes in strategies would be needed. Nonetheless, it appears that Exxon continued to advise investors that its business model, heavily reliant on continued burning of fossil fuels, was sound, and continued to market its fossil fuel products to consumers without adequately disclosing the climate risks to the public.”
Both New York and Massachusetts have initiated discovery demands from Exxon in their states, and Exxon in a dazzling display of chutzpah is suing in the federal district court in Northern Texas to halt these investigations. Exxon denies wrongdoing and claims that the investigations impair its First Amendment rights. But it bears emphasizing that there is no First Amendment right to make materially false statements misleading investors, and there is no First Amendment right to make false or misleading statements about the harm associated with a company’s product. There is no “political” exception to the securities laws or the consumer protection laws.
There already is prize winning published material indicating that there is a foundation for the investigations (see https://insideclimatenews.org/content/Exxon-The-Road-Not-Taken). Whether Tillerson has participated in a campaign to deceive investors and consumers is surely a matter that deserves to be explored in his confirmation hearings. President elect Trump dispenses false and misleading statements like candy, but it is not a virtue. If Tillerson can not provide satisfying responses, hopefully, we will again come to the day that embarking on a campaign of distortion is a disqualification for high office.