A new playbook
By the start of the Obama administration in January 2009, it had become untenable for ExxonMobil to continue to publicly question climate science.
Instead, before Obama’s inauguration, and in apparent break with the long opposition to what he called “short-term policies” on climate change, company CEO Rex Tillerson publicly supported a carbon tax.
The proposal aimed to spread the cost of tackling climate change beyond the fossil fuel sector, taxing companies in all sectors of the economy for every tonne of carbon emitted – either directly by them or incorporated into it. the products they sell to consumers. The cost would then be passed on to the public.
In making the announcement, Tillerson outlined the outline of a new ExxonMobil playbook on climate change – one that accepts the science but nonetheless seeks to delay rapid emission reductions.
Instead of subsidizing renewable energy, governments should prioritize research and development to discover “breakthrough” technology. In the meantime, Exxon would remain “basically an oil and gas company because we believe this is what the company needs and will have to have for the next 50 years,” Tillerson said.
No one is going to propose a tax on all Americans …
There will be no carbon tax.
– Keith McCoy, Exxon lobbyist
Importantly, Tillerson explicitly formulated the company’s support for a carbon tax in opposition to the incoming Obama administration’s plan to introduce a stricter cap-and-trade system. Essentially, Exxon has supported a carbon tax as part of its strategy to oppose cap and trade.
In 2013 – after the rejection of the cap and trade bill – Tillerson backtracked: “As for our advocacy around a carbon tax, I would not support the implementation of a carbon tax today because I think that we still have a lot of gains to make thanks to technology and other less intrusive policies. “
Geoffrey Supran explained how this new playbook is a “classic passage from denial to retardation”.
“Of course, over the past few decades the company has necessarily changed its rhetoric, but the end goal remains the same and that is inaction on climate change. This is just a continuation of their 30 years of bad faith experience on climate change, ”Supran continued.
Exxon dismisses claims its support for a carbon tax is not genuine, but Earthen may reveal that one of its more senior lobbyists thinks the company knows the policy has no chance of being passed, but is still using it as an “advocacy tool”.
“Nobody is going to come up with a tax on all Americans and my cynical side says, yeah, we kinda know that, but that gives us a talking point that we can say, well, what’s the point of ExxonMobil?” Well, we are for a carbon tax, ”said McCoy.
When the reporter asked him, “So basically it’s never going to go right, right the math?” No it’s not, it’s not. The carbon tax will not take place ”.
He added that other members of the oil industry who have recently announced their support for a carbon tax – such as the American Petroleum Institute (API), an influential lobby group – have done so because ” they don’t have anything else, so that’s an easy talking point to say, listen, I’m for a carbon tax ”.
McCoy continued, “So that’s the topic of discussion, in my opinion it’s an effective advocacy tool. Many members of Congress may say, well, we don’t believe you, and we’ll say yes, we’ve been saying that for over a decade and we’re not new to this. API is new to it, some of these other companies are new to it, but at ExxonMobil we’ve been saying this for a decade.
“I think the carbon tax is an effective way to tell them [members of Congress]: set up or be silent.
McCoy was asked if Exxon’s support for the “talking point” of a carbon tax makes it easier for the company to oppose more punitive climate regulations, “while still having this kind of bold proposition that ensures you’re always up for something, not just against it? “
He nodded and replied, “Well, that’s the danger, so they realized they couldn’t come up with the kind of big bill, so what ends up happening is is the death of 1,000 cuts. “
McCoy continued, “They’re just going through the regulatory process and they’re putting a moratorium on federal leases, they’re doing something on the pipelines, you know, they’re going to look at offshore drilling, they’re now looking at the royalty rates for the. land drilling. so there is going to be every step of how they are going to try to cripple the oil and gas industry. “
An Exxon spokesperson said: “We have clearly supported an efficient and economical economy-wide carbon price as the best way to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. While there is not broad support for a tax, we are actively and publicly discussing other options, including low carbon fuels and other sectoral approaches that would impose a uniform and predictable cost on the fuel. carbon. “
An API spokesperson said: “We have endorsed a multitude of climate actions and advocate for a carbon pricing policy as the most effective way to spur innovation and reduce emissions in the world. all economic sectors. We will continue to advance technological innovation, policy solutions and industry actions to help shape a low carbon future. “