After Rex Tillerson answers questions regarding his fitness to be secretary of state in his confirmation hearing Wednesday, there’s another issue the former Exxon Mobil CEO will have to address next week, the day before President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated: his record on climate change.
The Boston Globe reported in December that Tillerson will be giving testimony in a case being brought by attorneys for a nonprofit group representing 21 teenagers who have alleged that climate change is violating their constitutional rights. Attorneys for the children told the paper that they’re seeking Tillerson’s testimony due to his expertise as director and recent chairman-elect of the American Petroleum Institute.
The teenagers plan to ask about the petroleum industry’s contribution to “global environmental damage.”
From The Boston Globe:
The youths from across the country claim that by perpetuating the use of fossil fuels, the government has trampled their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. They won a shot at pursuing their claims in November when an Oregon federal judge rejected the government’s request to throw out their lawsuit.
According to Mashable, Tillerson’s deposition is scheduled for Jan. 19, the day before Trump’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. The case, brought by the nonprofit group Our Children’s Trust, was allowed to proceed when a U.S. district court judge ruled that “the federal government and fossil fuel industry’s failure to stem global warming may violate the defendant’s constitutional rights.” The deposition is scheduled to be held in Dallas, Texas.
Tillerson is likely to be asked specifically about his association with the Global Climate Coalition. Many environmentalists believe the group actively engaged in a disinformation campaign about the effects of climate change. They charge Exxon knew about climate change science as early as 1977 and still refused to agree on the negative effects of man-made climate change. They charge the company created the coalition to question that science, and that this stance was in part why the Senate failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to control greenhouse gases after President Bill Clinton signed it. From Mashable:
The notice requesting the deposition asks for all documents relating to Tillerson’s participation with a group known as the Global Climate Coalition, a fossil fuel industry-backed group which conducted an effective climate science disinformation campaign during the 1990s through 2001.
It also seeks information on his role in particular decisions the George W. Bush administration made, such as walking away from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001.
Tillerson’s position on climate change is not as stridently conservative as some may believe. In a 2012 interview with the Council on Foreign Relations he said:
I’m not disputing that increasing CO2 emissions in the atmosphere is going to have an impact. It’ll have a warming impact. The — how large it is is what is very hard for anyone to predict. … [W]e will adapt to this. Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around — we’ll adapt to that. It’s an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions. … I think there are much more pressing priorities that we as a — as a human being race and society need to deal with.
Still, lawyers for the teenagers say Tillerson should be required to submit testimony in their case.
“Rex Tillerson is one of the most knowledgeable executives in the fossil fuel world on the role of his industry alongside our federal government in causing climate change and endangering my youth plaintiffs and all future generations,” said attorney Julia Olson in a statement. “We intend to use his deposition to uncover his and others’ culpability, on behalf of these defendants.”
Tillerson and Exxon Mobil will be defending their records on climate change along with two other oil industry trade groups.
In his Senate confirmation hearing, Tillerson said that the U.S. needs to “maintain its seat at the table” in the global climate-change fight.