Donald Trump’s pick to be secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, leads a company currently under investigation by state attorneys general for potentially misleading investors about what the company knew about climate change.
As secretary of state, Tillerson would be the United States’ representative abroad negotiating agreements on climate change. On the campaign trail, Trump said that he would favor pulling out of the Paris Agreement, but has since claimed to have an “open mind” and be “studying” the issue.
For his part, Tillerson has said that climate change is a “serious” threat, and Exxon now publicly supports the science behind climate change as well as the Paris accord. Yet Exxon has come under scrutiny in the last year from environmental groups and state attorneys general for allegedly downplaying the risks posed by climate change.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched a fraud investigation in 2015 to look into whether Exxon hid what it knew about climate change and how it would impact its business from investors. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey followed up with a similar probe earlier this year.
Schneiderman has already reviewed some documents from Exxon, but had to sue the company and its auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, in order to get them to comply with a subpoena for additional documents.
Exxon has denied wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit against Schneiderman and Healey claiming that the investigations launched by the two attorneys general amounted to a political attack. Exxon sued Healey in June in an attempt to block her from investigating the company, calling the probe “nothing more than a weak pretext for an unlawful exercise of government power to further political objectives.” The oil company added Schneiderman to that lawsuit in November.
“Attorneys General Schneiderman and Healey have joined together with each other as well as others known and unknown to conduct improper and politically motivated investigations of ExxonMobil in a coordinated effort to silence and intimidate one side of the public policy debate on how to address climate change,” the amended complaint reads.
A judge in Texas initially granted Exxon’s request to depose Healey in person, but the judge reversed that order this week.
The investigations into Exxon have drawn scrutiny from the House Science Committee, led by climate change-denying Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX). Smith has accused the attorneys general as well as environmental groups of initiating an “unprecedented effort against those who have questioned the causes, magnitude, or best ways to address climate change.”
The committee has issued subpoenas to both Schneiderman and Healey for their communications with environmental groups about Exxon and climate change. Schneiderman and Healey have fought the subpoenas, arguing that the committee would be interfering in a state criminal investigation, and the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) has argued that with the subpoenas Smith was “harassing” the state attorneys general.