Rex Tillerson claimed to support a carbon tax while CEO of ExxonMobil, but under his watch last year the oil and gas company lobbied against two pioneering carbon tax bills in Massachusetts, and it has long funded opponents of carbon pricing.

Uncritical media coverage of Rex Tillerson’s record on the carbon tax issue has lulled some, apparently including cleantech guru Elon Musk, into a false sense of security as the former ExxonMobil’s CEO seeks to become our next Secretary of State.

ExxonMobil offered rhetorical support for a carbon tax, while funding carbon tax opponents

Just days before the election of Donald Trump as president, ExxonMobil reiterated its claim to support a revenue neutral carbon tax as the “best option” for achieving its preferred policy approach to addressing climate change.

Exxon said:

The best policy options to achieve that goal will be market-based, predictable, transparent and globally applicable to promote innovation and technology breakthroughs required to address climate change risks. ExxonMobil has for many years held the view that a revenue-neutral carbon tax is the best option to fulfill these key principles.

Rex Tillerson was still CEO at the time, though he planned to retire at the end of 2016 after more than 41 years with the company.

Rex Tillerson at a Senate hearing on his nomination to become Secretary of State. Photo from the Trump Transition team.

Unfortunately, ExxonMobil’s rhetorical support for a carbon tax during Tillerson’s tenure was negated by its continual funding of carbon tax opponents, as has been well documented by DesmogBlog, Inside Climate News, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.  

Now, the Energy and Policy Institute has discovered that ExxonMobil lobbied against two bills that sought to establish the nation’s first carbon tax in the state of Massachusetts.

ExxonMobil lobbied against a revenue-neutral carbon tax bill in Massachusetts

A review of 2016 lobbying disclosures filed with the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts revealed that a registered lobbyist opposed two carbon tax billsS.1747 and S.1786 – (along with a number of other climate-related bills) on behalf of ExxonMobil.

A disclosure form filed by lobbyist William J. Coyne, Jr., shows that Coyne took “oppose” positions on both carbon tax bills on behalf of his “client” ExxonMobil (see here for an overview of Massachusetts lobbying law). The lobbying took place sometime between January 1 and June 30, 2016, when Rex Tillerson was still CEO of ExxonMobil.

A lobbyist disclosed opposing a 2016 revenue neutral carbon tax bill in Massachusetts on behalf of ExxonMobil.

ExxonMobil disclosed a total of $49,236.96 in “salaries paid” to Coyne in 2016, made in two equal payments of $24,618.48 and covering the time periods between January-June and July-December.

Outside of these relatively obscure lobbying disclosures, the Energy and Policy Institute could find no public record of ExxonMobil’s positions on the two bills. In other words, ExxonMobil’s lobbying against carbon tax proposals in Massachusetts occurred largely behind the scenes. 

Stephen Dodge, a lobbyist for the Massachusetts division of the American Petroleum Institute, also disclosed taking “oppose” positions on the carbon tax bills.

CarbonTax.org has a primer on both of the carbon tax bills that ExxonMobil opposed in Massachusetts. Notably, S.1747 aimed to create a revenue neutral carbon tax, where,  “All revenue would be returned to households, businesses and institutions.” It received significant public support and relatively little opposition in the Massachusetts Senate, but did not receive a vote in 2016. Senator Michael Barrett, who sponsored S.1747, has since reintroduced his carbon tax proposal as S.1021, and climate advocates are planning a campaign to support the bill during the 2017-2018 legislative session in Massachusetts.

The other bill, S.1786, would have created a revenue-positive carbon tax. “80% of revenue would be returned while 20% percent would be invested in transportation and clean energy,” according to CarbonTax.org.

The  carbon tax bills ExxonMobil opposed in Massachusetts might not have met all of the company’s aforementioned criteria for its ideal climate policy. But states often serve as laboratories of democracy, and a successful carbon tax in Massachusetts could help to broaden support for a national or even global carbon pricing system – if powerful fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil get out of the way. Furthermore, if ExxonMobil really supported a revenue-neutral carbon tax, as it has claimed, the company could have simply remained “neutral” on these bills, rather than outright “oppose” them, as their lobbyist did on a number of other climate-related bills.

ExxonMobil opposed all sorts of clean energy and climate change policies on Rex Tillerson’s watch

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Tillerson seemed to confirm that he originally voiced support for a carbon tax in 2009 in order to counter a cap-and-trade bill that was moving in Congress at the time. He did not commit to work towards a carbon tax as Secretary of State, but did reiterate his personal preference for a revenue neutral carbon tax. 

Moreover, Tillerson’s broader record on clean energy and climate change provides ample reason for concern.

For example, under Tillerson, ExxonMobil opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s science-based finding that greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change endanger public health, welfare, and the environment. Remember, ExxonMobil’s own scientists knew about the potentials risks of climate change several decades before the EPA began work on its endangerment finding. Nonetheless, ExxonMobil continued to fund efforts to deny those  risks while Tillerson was at the helm. Tillerson also opposed the EPA’s Clean Power Plan while CEO of ExxonMobil, a key U.S. climate policy that Donald Trump pledged to “rescind” while on the campaign trail.

In 2015, Tillerson told ExxonMobil shareholders that his company did not invest in renewable energy because, “We choose not to lose money on purpose.” And just last year, while Tillerson was still boss, ExxonMobil lobbyists disclosed having engaged in “active advocacy” on a bill to extend the freeze on Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards (a bad move that Republican Governor John Kasich ultimately vetoed for all the right reasons). ExxonMobil lobbyists also lobbied on separate bills to outright repeal Ohio’s clean energy standards and prohibit state agencies from implementing the Clean Power Plan.

These examples are likely just the tip of the iceberg, because lax lobbying disclosure requirements at the federal level and in most states mean we don’t know what position ExxonMobil has taken on the many of the bills it has lobbied on. Massachusetts is one exception, and transparency there provides a small window into ExxonMobil’s behind the scenes opposition to a carbon tax.

Yes, ExxonMobil’s record on climate change is so bad that the company is now under active investigation by state attorneys general in Massachusetts and New York. Rex Tillerson now wants to avoid taking responsibility for his role in ExxonMobil’s harmful actions, and he should not get a free pass just because he may seem on paper to be less bad on climate change than some of Donald Trump’s other nominees.

Posted by Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson is the policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute. Dave has been working at the nexus of clean energy and public policy since 2008. Prior to joining the Energy and Policy Institute, he was an outreach coordinator for the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He is also an alumnus of the Sierra Club and the Alliance for Climate Protection (now the Climate Reality Project). Dave’s research has helped to spur public scrutiny of political attacks on clean energy and climate science by powerful special interests, such as ExxonMobil and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). His work has been cited by major media outlets, such as CBS News and the Wall Street Journal, and he has served as a speaker on panels at national solar industry conferences. Dave holds a MA in Political Science from the University of New Hampshire, where he also received a BA in Humanities.

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