Has Exxon Really Seen the Light on Global Warming?

Environmental group Greenpeace takes issue with Exxon donations.

May 18, 2007 — -- ExxonMobil continues to quietly pump millions of dollars into a network of organizations that deny or question global warming, despite acknowledging such payments had become harmful to the company's image, according to a new report by the environmental advocacy group Greenpeace.

In the report, to be released today, Greenpeace said ExxonMobil is still awarding grants to groups known to question the science behind climate change at a time when the international scientific community has accepted the reality of global warming.

ExxonMobil gave almost $23 million to such groups from 1998 to 2006, including $2.1 million to 41 organizations last year alone, Greenpeace said.

ExxonMobil said the organizations it awarded grants to are not necessarily doing Exxon's bidding.

"In common with many other companies, we support numerous public policy organizations that research and promote discussion on a variety of topics, such as energy policy and international affairs," Exxon spokesman Dave Gardner told ABC News in an e-mail. "These groups do not represent us or speak on our behalf, nor do we have any control over their views and messages."

A Greenpeace spokesman said the organization wanted Exxon to halt the funding.

"We want this company to own up to its legacy of funding these groups," said Kert Davies, the research director at Greenpeace who contributed to the analysis and report. "We want them to cease funding them, and at the very least declare what these organizations are doing."

Tax documents examined by Greenpeace show that ExxonMobil gave grants to 14 groups skeptical of global warming. ExxonMobil had classified them as "general support" grants in public reports, according to the environmental group.

A public shaming campaign by Greenpeace and others has led ExxonMobil to vow recently to cut its charitable giving to such groups.

"The funding was unfortunately becoming a distraction," one ExxonMobil executive told BusinessWeek magazine recently.

Greenpeace believes Exxon's chief motivation for funding groups that question climate change science is to control the emerging policy debate in Congress and soften the blow from expected restrictions in greenhouse gas emissions that will affect the oil and gas industry.

Company Calls Warming a 'Serious Issue'

ExxonMobil said it has taken steps to portray itself as having come to grips with the fact that the heat-trapping gases released from the burning of fossil fuels is a major factor contributing to global warming.

"Our position on climate change is clear," Exxon's Gardner told ABC News. "We believe that climate change is a serious issue and that action is warranted now."

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson addressed the topic in February.

"It is clear that something is going on. It is not useful to debate [the matter] any longer," Tillerson said. He often touts the steps ExxonMobil has taken to reduce its own carbon dioxide emissions.

Congress Calls for Action

But some in Congress want to make sure Exxon's public pronouncements are backed by real action.

A just-released letter to Tillerson from Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., calls on Exxon to provide lawmakers with the amount and purpose of every corporate grant it awarded in 2006, along with other documents.

"The company's support of climate skeptics, many of whom have no real grounding in climate science, appears to be an effort to distort public discussion about global warming," wrote Miller, who serves as chairman of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology. "I hope that the company has moved away from support for public policy advocates who attempt to twist and distort the scientific record."

Despite the concern over the company's donations, Greenpeace's Davies also believes Exxon is at least part of a solution to a warming climate.

"The bottom line is, we want ExxonMobil to help stop global warming," Davies said. "We need their help. And until they own up to what they've been doing for the last decade and unless they start pulling with the rest of the world, we're going to have a hard time solving global warming."

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