"One of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right
to criticize public men and measures."
- Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter in a free speech case
Exxon Hates America is clearly satire, but with a serious message. If one judges Exxon and other fossil fuel companies not by the words on their press releases, but by their actions and predictable and already evident consequences, we believe Exxon really may hate America - even if they believe otherwise.
When Oil Change International, The Other 98%, and Environmental Action launched Exxon Hates Your Children in late 2012, ExxonMobil never directly communicated with our organizations. Instead, they chose to attempt to censor our free speech by seeking to persuade station managers, who often receive advertising revenue from the oil industry, to not run the ads.
ExxonMobil finds this critical speech to be offensive. That is neither surprising nor relevant. As the Supreme Court has noted:
"[T]he fact that society may find speech offensive is not a sufficient reason for suppressing it. Indeed, if it is the speaker's opinion that gives offense, that consequence is a reason for according it constitutional protection."
So, does Exxon respect America enough to allow us our rights?
Or will they try to silence us again, just as they and others in the fossil fuel industries have tried to silence and mislead ordinary communities that have spoken out for their health and their homes as more important than the industry's profits?
There are several key assertions in the ad:
"Oil hurts communities and endangers the planet."
Burning fossil fuels is the top source of climate change, and the local pollution impacts of drilling are often severe.
Oil is a major cause of global warming. The oil industry's business model depends on drilling for more and more of the fuels that cause climate disruption, even though fossil fuel companies have already discovered significantly more oil, gas and coal than scientists say we can safely burn. Even the International Energy Agency now agrees that in order to have even chances of limiting global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius (beyond which the worst impacts of warming will kick in), two-thirds of the current proven reserves of fossil fuels must remain in the ground by 2050. And yet, every year the oil industry is finding more reserves that we cannot burn.
There are also well-documented negative impacts on communities that oil and gas extraction bring with them. It's called the resource curse, and the trend holds globally that wherever the oil and gas industries go, crime, drugs and conflict follow closely. Even Fox News is alarmed by the rise in crime around the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota.
Last year, on March 29 2013, Exxon Mobil, the most profitable company in the world, spilled at least 210,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from an underground pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas. The pipeline was carrying tar sands oil from Canada, which flooded family residences in Mayflower in thick tarry crude.
A Greenpeace Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) revealed that Exxon downplayed the extent of the contamination caused by the ruptured pipeline. Records of emails between Arkansas' DEQ and Exxon depict attempts by Exxon to pass off press releases with factually false information. In a draft press release dated April 8, Exxon claims "Tests on water samples show Lake Conway and the cove are oil-free." However, internal emails from April 6 show Exxon knew of significant contamination across Lake Conway and the cove resulting from the oil spill.
Now oil and gas companies and their paid allies in government are determined to fight community efforts to disclose the type of chemicals that are being used in fracking operations, going as far as to propose a recent bill in North Carolina that would make it a class 1 felony to disclose those chemicals publicly. Many of these types of bills are backed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a secretive group that is in turn backed by ExxonMobil and other oil and gas companies.
Exxon is the #1 natural gas producer in the U.S., but when fracking was proposed in Exxon CEO's Rex Tillerson's backyard, he sued to stop it. How's that for hating America with your hypocrisy?
"We own your government"
This is obvious hyperbole, but it reflects the widespread belief that lobbyists, and particularly oil and gas companies have more influence on and access to government than do ordinary citizens.
- The Center for Responsive Politics found that support from the oil and gas industry to Congress and during has not gone unrewarded. For example, while President Bush and Vice President Cheney were in office, the oil and gas industry spent nearly $400 million on lobbying and contributed over $80 million to federal candidates, parties and political action committees. In turn, President Bush signed an energy bill that gave $14.5 billion in tax breaks for oil, gas, nuclear power and coal companies.
- Oil and gas companies continued to ramp up campaign finance during the 2012 Presidential cycle - contributing more than $70 million to federal candidates.
- The Dirty Energy Money and State Dirty Energy Money databases track contributions from the oil, gas and coal industries to elected officials - showing the millions of dollars annually coming from the fossil fuel industries to federal and state lawmakers.
- The oil and gas industry contributes substantially to the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which boasts about its ability to pass bills based on model legislation developed by its members. ALEC has been influential in introducing fracking disclosure legislation in several states, but ALEC's model legislation has significant loopholes allowing companies to withhold information about certain chemicals.
- Exxon has significant influence in ALEC: According to DeSmogBlog: "Exxon's 2011 Corporate Giving Report shows they gave $12,500 to ALEC specifically for the States and Nation Policy Summit in Schottsdale, AZ where the fracking loophole bill was sponsored by Exxon and approved by ALEC's EEA task force. Exxon gave ALEC a total $86,500 last year."
- Koch Industries is another example of the oil and gas industry buying influence on government: the Kochs ramped up lobbying expenditures from $857,000 in 2004 to $20 million in 2008, but then shifted strategies towards their Americans for Prosperity group where they now plan to spend $125 million in the current election..
"Big Oil invests millions buying politicians, and we get back billions of your tax dollars"
It is a matter of fact that the oil industry spends millions on campaign finance and lobbying expenditures and receives billions of dollars in taxpayer support.
- Oil Change International is about to release a new analysis revealing $20+ billion in annual U.S. subsidies to the oil and gas industry.
- In May 2012, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Keith Ellison introduced the "End Polluter Welfare Act" which totals fossil fuel subsidies worth roughly $11.3 billion annually.
- Others have put the estimate even higher, at $41 billion annually, The International Monetary Fund estimates global fossil fuel subsidies.at $1.9 trillion annually with roughly $500 billion of that total in the United States.
"You'll be seeing more of our exploding trains, dirty pipelines, and fracking wells"
The All of the Above Energy strategy favored by the industry is leading to an unprecedented expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure across America. U.S. natural gas production has risen by 18 percent and oil production has grown by 35 percent from 2008-2013.
Further resources, data and analysis:
Does Exxon actually hate America? No one knows, but its record and actions, and those of its fossil fuel industry colleagues, credibly indicate a disregard for our nation and its future. The ad produced by Environmental Action, The Other 98% and Oil Change International is obvious satire, but with a serious message that is protected by the First Amendment.