Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer claimed on Tuesday that his network of political and policy groups is not pressing for government investigations into oil company ExxonMobil, but a review of those groups' activities shows they have repeatedly done just that.
"We're definitely not pushing this thing," Steyer said, according to Politico, when asked about his communications with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has led efforts to bring fraud and racketeering charges against the company. "We are not part of this effort," Steyer added.
In fact, the foremost arm of Steyer’s political operation, super PAC NextGen Climate Action, has repeatedly promoted the effort and attempted to enlist federal and state officials in efforts to bring charges against Exxon for allegedly misleading the public and its shareholders about the dangers of climate change.
NextGen’s New Hampshire arm held a rally in April explicitly billed as an effort to advance Schneiderman’s anti-Exxon legal campaign.
The purpose of the rally was to convince New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster "to join the investigation of Exxon Mobil and find the truth about whether Exxon Mobil intentionally misled the public about the risk climate change and fossil fuels pose to our communities," according to a page on its website.
That page no longer exists, though social media postings promoting and quoting from it remain. NextGen New Hampshire’s Twitter account promoted it with the hashtag #ExxonKnew, which has become the unofficial slogan of efforts to bring criminal or civil charges against the company.
"Granite Staters are committed to holding accountable those who have defrauded the public, damaged our planet, and endangered our children’s future," wrote Mike Padmore, then NextGen NH’s state director.
The national organization chimed in with its support the same day. "We agree that New Hampshire should join the Exxon investigation," NextGen wrote on its Twitter account.
A photo of the New Hampshire rally posted on Twitter shows a handful of supporters denouncing the company with slogans such as "time to bust climate criminals. Indict Exxon."
Strong support for NH joining the #ExxonKnew investigation.
— NextGen Climate NH (@NextGen_NH) April 21, 2016
NextGen used the prospect of state and federal charges against Exxon to attack vulnerable Republicans in states where Steyer groups are spending large sums to elect Democrats to the U.S. Senate.
NextGen targeted Sen. Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, calling on the vulnerable Republican incumbent "to push for Senate investigation into #ExxonKnew." That page no longer appears on its website.
The group’s national arm targeted Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman with a similar petition drive. "Tell Senator Portman to break with the extreme elements in his party and support a federal investigation into Exxon’s coverup of the science behind climate change," the group asked its supporters.
A Steyer spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about discrepancies between his recent public statements on Exxon investigations and NextGen’s prior work promoting those investigations.
While an investigation has not materialized, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced a probe this week into the methodology that Exxon uses to value its oil reserves.
The shift in focus from Exxon’s past statements to its future financial projections is a major departure from the initial allegations of Schneiderman, NextGen, and others promoting the #ExxonKnew effort.
Legal experts have suggested that the shift indicates weaknesses in the case for a racketeering or fraud investigation into the company’s prior statements on climate change.
Exxon said it considered the SEC probe "appropriate."