MANHATTAN (CN) – A packed New York courthouse buzzed with anticipation Wednesday as five words ushered forward the key witness in a trial accusing Exxon of defrauding investors about the climate crisis.
“The people call Rex Tillerson,” said Kim Berger, a bureau chief from New York State Attorney General’s Office.
Tillerson, a former secretary of state for President Donald Trump and a decade-long CEO for Exxon, took the stand this morning in a red tie that hearkened more to his Republican bona fides than the oil giant’s green policies.
Unlike Trump, Tillerson professed to accept climate science.
“We took the issue quite seriously,” said Tillerson, 67, testifying that he had lobbied the previous administration for a carbon tax and pushed for the landmark Paris Climate Accords, a treaty that his future boss Trump would attempt to unravel.
The New York State Attorney’s General Office claims that those alleged measures amounted to a “Potemkin Village,” put up to stave off climate action.
Berger, who heads the office’s Bureau of Internet and Technology, questioned Tillerson about how his additions to the climate report were received by other Exxon officials.
“RWT reviewed the document and found it acceptable," wrote Robert Luttgen, a manager from the company’s office of the secretary, using initials for Rex Wayne Tillerson.
A native of Exxon’s home state of Texas, Tillerson spoke with a twang as he told the attorney that Exxon’s energy outlook had been meant to address the question: "How's our world going to look 20 years from now, 30 years from now, 40 years from now?"
The report to which Tillerson contributed contained a color-coded map on the “proxy” costs of carbon dioxide, varying across country and continent.
A 2011 email suggested that Tillerson favored a “conservative” estimate.
Exxon’s corporate strategic planning director Tom Eizember told the company’s greenhouse gas manager Robert Balles: “Rex seemed happy with the difference previously – appeared to feel it provides a ‘conservative' basis (but only if viewed from the perspective of claiming economics credits to reduce emissions; it is not conservative vs [Energy Outlook] from the perspective of debiting actions that increase emissions.)"
Under friendly cross-examination by Exxon’s attorney Theodore Wells, Tillerson denied the central allegations of New York’s lawsuit.
Displaying a copy of the complaint, Wells asked a series of true-and-false questions about the sentences.