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Tillerson climate-change testimony set before Trump sworn in

Rex Tillerson
Rex Tillerson

Lawyers for teenagers claiming the U.S. government failed to protect the environment from global warming plan to question under oath President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state on his knowledge of climate change.

Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson’s testimony, set for the day before the Jan. 20 inauguration, is being sought by lawyers representing 21 children and teenagers seeking to prove that oil and gas industry groups “have known about the dangers of climate change since the 1960s and have successfully worked to prevent the government” from taking action. The groups, whose members include Exxon, joined the lawsuit on the side of the government to oppose the teens.

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.

Tillerson, who was a director and recent chairman-elect of the American Petroleum Institute, would be asked about his company and industry contributing to global environmental damage, lawyers for the teenagers said Thursday in a statement. One of Exxon’s senior scientists noted in 1977 — 11 years before a NASA scientist sounded the alarm about global warming during congressional testimony — that “the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.”

‘Future Generations’

“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,” Julia Olson, attorney for the plaintiffs, said in the statement. “We intend to use his deposition to uncover his and others’ culpability, on behalf of these defendants.”

David Buente, an attorney representing the three trade groups in the case, said they received the notice for the deposition on Dec. 28. He declined to comment further.

Attorneys for the children said Tillerson is a “key witness” whose immediate testimony is critical to their case. They said they’re preparing for his attorneys to make attempts to block the scheduled deposition.

Exxon this year sued New York Sate Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to stop his investigation into what the company knew about climate change, claiming the probe was politically motivated. Massachusetts, New York and other states are investigating whether Exxon violated securities laws and consumer-protection rules by withholding information allegedly obtained as early as the 1970s that man-made emissions were changing the climate.

Assets Value

Schneiderman separately sued Exxon, claiming the company failed to comply with a demand for records about the effect of climate change on the value of its assets.

Tillerson is preparing for his congressional confirmation hearing for secretary of state, a role in which he would almost certainly help determine the fate of the global climate-change accord forged in Paris last year. While Trump has spoken out in ardent opposition to the pact and its emissions-cutting mandates, Tillerson and Exxon publicly pivoted on their position on climate change as early as 2013, calling it a “serious risk” in an interview with Charlie Rose.

It’s clear that there is an impact of carbon dioxide emissions, Tillerson said then. “What’s not clear is our ability to measure with a great degree of accuracy or certainty exactly how large that impact will be,” he said.

Tillerson has subsequently reinforced his position, including in an October speech at the annual Oil and Money conference in London when he said climate change warrants “thoughtful action.” He cited the Paris agreement as tool for the world to work together to “mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.”

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