Climate Lawsuits: Depose Lee Raymond and Rex Tillerson

As we have been saying…lots of climate lawsuits are landing in State and Federal courts nationwide. As these suits move forward, there is a short list of people who ought to be deposed first. Former ExxonMobil CEOs, Rex Tillerson and Lee Raymond, top the list.

Rex Tillerson worked at Exxon for his entire corporate career and was CEO of ExxonMobil from 2006 to 2017. He was planning to retire in 2017, but left ExxonMobil early to become Secretary of State. Tillerson was fired by Trump (or quit) early in 2018 and is now a free man. Tillerson was already sent a Notice of Deposition request in the Children’s Trust case.

Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil, Climate Change

Tillerson also shepherded the massive ExxonMobil deal with Rosneft, the Kremlin controlled Russian oil company.  This would have been Tillerson and Exxon’s crowning achievement if not for the sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration after Russia invaded Crimea. These same sanctions are the ones Russian operatives appear to have been trying to get removed during interventions with representatives of the Trump campaign in 2016.  As CEO, Tillerson actively tried to tamp down attention to Exxon’s climate denial role and history.

Lee Raymond also worked at Exxon for his entire professional career, preceding Tillerson as the CEO of Exxon (and then ExxonMobil) from 1993-2005 when he retired. During his tenure, Raymond was focused on the public policy debate surrounding climate change, referring to the “unproven theory” as “the issue that perhaps poses the greatest long-term threat to our industry” (at American Petroleum Institute’s 1997 Annual Meeting).

Lee Raymond was among the most unrepentant deniers and champions of fossil fuels. Raymond’s speeches and statements of climate science denial, doubt, delay and defiance, were unlike any other corporate CEO or even conservative politician of his time. Often calling into question the rationality and motives of environmentalists and of government action, Lee Raymond was briefed on climate change science as early as 1985 and remained steadfast in his “ferocious” denial until as recently as 2000. His remarks at the World Petroleum Congress in 1997, as Bloomberg reported, summarized his views: “First, the world isn’t warming. Second, even if it were, oil and gas wouldn’t be the cause. Third, no one can predict the likely future temperature rise.” A group of speeches and statements from Lee Raymond can be found on Climate Files.

The Exxon Climate Plan

Under the leadership of Lee Raymond, Exxon’s public affairs and lobbying teams funneled money to organizations who would say more extreme things than Exxon could without facing public backlash. Key to this effort was Ken Cohen, Exxon VP for Public and Government Affairs from 1999 until he retired in late 2015 .

  • Exxon sent grants totaling tens of millions of dollars to climate denying front groups and think tanks, including over $5 million in known grants specifically earmarked for work on climate change.  
  • These grants have titles listed on tax forms and Exxon documents such as “Global Climate Change Activities”, “Grassroots Efforts on Climate Change Issues”, and “Global Climate Change Program.” 
  • This funding ramped up significantly in 1997, the year the Kyoto Protocol UN climate compact was signed.  
  • Exxon denial funding peaked in 2005 at nearly $3.5 million in grants.  
  • In total, we can account for $35 million in grants from Exxon and ExxonMobil to organizations denying climate science and fighting proactive climate policy measures between 1997 and 2016.

As we wrote a couple years ago, as important as what “Exxon Knew” is what they did after their own scientists briefed company managers on climate change in the 1980s.  If we were lawyers, we would have some very specific questions for Exxon executives:

  • Who, specifically, at the ExxonMobil Foundation solicited and approved these grants?
  • Who annually reviewed the deliverables and grant reports from the funded organizations?
  • Who was the point of contact at ExxonMobil for the grantees?
  • Did proposals come in unsolicited from NGOs like Heartland or Frontiers of Freedom?
  • Or did you select or conduct outreach to those groups to set up these projects?
  • Where are the ExxonMobil Foundation documents? the grant proposals, the grant reports back to ExxonMobil Foundation?

Furthermore, we know Exxon played a coordinating role around climate change for many years from some key leaked documents that Exxon and friends never meant to be seen.

  • A 1998 document leaked to the New York Times revealed that the American Petroleum Institute (API) had organized a “Global Climate Science Communications Team”. This team was formed after the Global Climate Coalition and its allies failed to kill the Kyoto Protocol; together they crafted a strategic campaign document with budgets, fundraising targets, and explicit goals to “inform the American public” that “significant uncertainties still remain in climate science.” Exxon’s Washington, DC public and government affairs staffer, Randy Randol, was on the team along with representatives from Chevron and Southern Company in addition to multiple conservative or ‘free market’ think tank officers.
  • A leaked 2006 Heartland Institute invitation organizing a meeting to have a “Strategic Discussion Regarding the Clean Air Act”, including sessions on Cap and Trade and greenhouse gas regulation at the state level. The same year as this meeting, Heartland received a grant of $115,000 from ExxonMobil. The meeting invite list includes multiple organizations funded by ExxonMobil at that time.  Six ExxonMobil staff are on the invite list and four separate sessions on the day long agenda are presented by ExxonMobil staff. No other corporations were invited to the meeting which was facilitated by DCI Group, a communications and public affairs company employed by Exxon for many years.

Exxon Climate Change Grants

As stated above, when Lee Raymond was CEO, Exxon dispensed over $5 million in grants specifically earmarked for work on climate change. Many of these grant recipients were members of the Cooler Heads Coalition, a affiliation of climate denying non-profits and think tanks.

Four coalition members, Frontiers of Freedom, The George Marshall Institute, The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, and The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition were also represented on 1998 Global Climate Science Communication Team detailed above..  All four of these organizations received heavy Exxon funding in subsequent years.  

Below are examples from just one year, 2004, of Exxon’s climate-specific grant making as seen in ExxonMobil annual Worldwide Giving reports and IRS tax forms submitted by ExxonMobil Foundation.

Frontiers of Freedom Climate Grant

George C Marshall Institute Climate Grant

Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow Climate Grant

Exxon Funds Cooler Heads Coalition

In total, from 1997 to 2015, Exxon gave over $11 million to members of the Cooler Heads Coalition. Of that total, we have tallied roughly $2.8 million in grants explicitly related to climate change.

Below are Cooler Heads Coalition members who were top recipients of climate change specific grants from Exxon along with the titles of the grants they received. Full detail can be found in linked documents:

Frontiers of Freedom

Total Exxon funding: $1,272,000

Known Climate Grants: $617,000

Grant titles: Climate Change Efforts, Global Climate Change Outreach, Project Support- Climate change, Project Support- Science Center & Climate Change, Global Climate Change Activities, Global Climate Change Science Projects

George C. Marshall Institute

Total Exxon funding: $865,000

Known Climate Grants: $495,000

Grant titles: Climate Change, Awards Dinner- Climate Change Activities, Global Climate Change Program, Climate Change

American Legislative Exchange Council

Total Exxon funding: $1,880,700

Known Climate Grants: $428,500

Grant titles: Energy Sustainability Project (Climate Change), Climate Change Environmental Outreach

Competitive Enterprise Institute

Total Exxon funding: $2,100,000

Known Climate Grants: $275,000

Grant titles: Global Climate Change, Global Climate Change Outreach, Global Climate Change Program

Citizens for a Sound Economy

Total Exxon funding: $405,250

Known Climate Grants: $250,250

Grant titles: CO2 Regulation Project

Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow

Total Exxon funding: $587,000

Known Climate Grants: $180,000

Grant titles: Climate Change & Energy, Climate Change Issues, Grassroots Efforts on Climate Change Issues

Heartland Institute

Total Exxon funding: $686,500

Known Climate Grants: $140,000

Grant titles: Climate Change, Climate Change Efforts, Climate Efforts

Fraser Institute

Total funding: $120,000

Known Climate Grants: $120,000

Grant titles: Climate Change Issues, Grassroots Efforts on Climate Change Issues


As these records and documents show, ExxonMobil and its leadership have had an indisputable role in orchestrating and funding the climate denial machine over the past several decades.  And we have only skimmed the surface. As the climate change lawsuits progress, these historical documents that have been discovered and curated will inform the questions that should be asked in depositions. These shards show what types of documents and contractual relationships exist and those should be produced for the court.

As always, for further information about our research please contact us directly.

Posted by Kert Davies