Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Trump’s State Pick Has a History with Mass. Politicians

Rex Tillerson spoke in Washington in March 2015. (Credit: Associated Press) Click to Enlarge.
Massachusetts activists have been trying to make an example of Exxon Mobil, through various legal efforts aimed at faulting the company for failing to prepare the world for the established effect of its products’ use: climate change.

In the first lawsuit of its kind, filed in September, the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation contends Exxon Mobil has failed to prepare for rising sea levels and severe weather caused by climate change, potentially exposing the public to toxic breaches around its oil terminal on the Mystic River in Everett.  While the lawsuit focuses on local concerns, its aim is clearly sweeping.

The lawsuit, the foundation says on its website, sets a precedent “for the dynamic role of local advocacy in taking down global giants.”

At the same time, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is seeking documents from Exxon Mobil for an investigation into what the company knew internally about the science of global warming over time.

Both legal actions followed the publication of reports in InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times suggesting the company’s scientists had accepted the legitimacy of climate change long before the company dropped its public arguments encouraging doubt and denial in 2007.

Exxon Mobil has disputed the conclusions of those reports and has resisted Healey’s investigation, refusing to turn over documents.  Healey is hoping the Senate confirmation hearings will prod more action.

“If there’s a confirmation hearing in a matter of weeks or months, he’s going to be called upon to answer any number of questions,” said Healey, “including the questions that we’ve been asking for a long time here.”

George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, a nonprofit advocacy organization, said the hearing could become, “essentially, a free deposition — one that we might not have been able to get to, but for the fact of the nomination.”

Large corporations often have the financial resources and legal departments to prolong litigation for years, he noted.

“But all of a sudden you now have the CEO of the largest petroleum company on the witness stand, effectively, to be quizzed in the most public forum about what he knew and when he knew it,” Bachrach said.
The company has fought back, suing Healey in Massachusetts and in Texas, where she was nearly sent for a deposition last week.  (The judge who had initially scheduled the deposition is now entertaining additional briefs on jurisdiction.)

“This is a corporation that has taken the unprecedented step of actually suing a state attorney general to try to shut down an investigation,” Healey said.  “That’s not good corporate practice. That’s just not the way we do business here in this country.”

Markey, Massachusetts’ junior senator, suggested the tactic by Exxon Mobil would carry over to the confirmation committee’s deliberations on Tillerson.  He has already promised President-elect Donald J. Trump a major battle on the nomination.

“It’s this type of bullying tactic by Exxon that raises concerns about Rex Tillerson’s nomination to be America’s chief diplomat,” Markey said.  “The rule of law and public transparency are bedrock American values that our secretary of state should reflect to the world.”

The Senate nomination hearings — already expected to be contentious because of Tillerson’s ties to Russia and a career spent exclusively at Exxon — could become a public debate on climate change, prodded by frustrated Democrats who are dismayed to see the incoming Trump administration employ so many Big Oil allies.

Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, noted the secretary of state will be tasked with overseeing the Paris Agreement.

“My point is, he’s worked 40 years for this company and been CEO for the last 10 or so,” Kimmell said.  “How does he get out of the mind-set of a fossil-fuel company that has every interest in expanding its oil and gas operation and understand he’s now representing a country as part of a world agreement that is moving in the other direction toward a clean-energy economy?”

Kimmell’s organization, based in Cambridge, has also been subpoenaed by Exxon Mobil, which is trying to show whether politicians were working with environmental groups behind the scenes to build a case against the company.

Read more at Trump’s State Pick Has a History with Mass. Politicians

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