Petroleum industry knowledge of global warming in the Arctic, where ExxonMobil, shown here working on a massive drilling platform with Russian oil giant Rosneft near Sakhalin island, has long been a pioneer in oil exploration, is among evidence being sought in the Our Children's Trust case.
Lawyers in the Our Children's Trust climate lawsuit are going after a trove of company emails written by former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson under the alias "Wayne Tracker."
The "request for production" for the emails went out to both the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry trade association, and the U.S. government as part of pre-trial discovery in the Our Children's Trust federal suit, according to a press release by OCT late Sunday.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office stated in a March 13, 2017 court filing that Tillerson used the “Wayne.Tracker@exxonmobil.com” pseudonym “to send and receive materials regarding important matters, including those concerning to the risk-management issues related to climate change…”
According to ExxonMobil, Tillerson's pseudonym “was put in place for secure and expedited communications between select senior company officials and the former chairman for a broad range of business-related topics."
In its press release, the Our Children's Trust lawyers maintained the emails are likely to reveal "the deep influence of the fossil fuel defendants over U.S. energy and climate policies" and to demonstrate Big Oil's "private acknowledgement that climate change was caused by their product," both key issues in the case.
The OCT legal action was initially filed, not against the oil companies, but solely against the government for failing to pursue policies that would protect against and even exacerbated climate change. Suing in the case are a group of 21 children from all over the United States, each affected by global warming in a particular way. The kids' lawsuit maintains that a livable climate is a public trust and constitutionally guaranteed as part of the right to life.
In the fall of 2015, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute intervened in the OCT case in federal district court in Eugene, Oregon.
After trying unsuccessfully to have the suit thrown out, the trade associations have found themselves on the defensive, battling having to turn over internal documents that may show them and their members obstructing efforts - sometimes surreptitiously - to limit carbon emissions, and promoting misleading information about climate science in the media and elsewhere.
As the Trump team has taken over at the Department of Justice, which is charged with defending the government, the U.S. renewed its push to have the pioneering climate suit dismissed by asking the the judge to allow an appeal to a higher court to hear evidence about why the case shouldn't be allowed to go to trial, now scheduled for sometime before the end of the year. If an appeal is allowed, there would also be a simultaneous ruling on whether to halt the case until the appeal runs its course.
So far, the fossil fuel companies have avoided answering whether they believe climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels, something the U.S. government has admitted in legal filings.
OCT lawyers were about to get an opportunity to question Tillerson under oath about his knowledge and activities at the American Petroleum Institute when he resigned at the end of December 2016 from both ExxonMobil and API, where he had been on the board of directors, in order to become secretary of state, at which time he became a named government defendant, one whom OCT is yet trying to question.
The government and API defendants have until April 16th to turn over any Wayne Tracker emails in their custody.
“When looking for evidence of a cover up, emails from Rex Tillerson’s pseudonym about climate change are just the kind of evidence the court needs to see,” commented Julia Olson, an OCT lawyer, in the organization's press release.