Revealed: Mobil sought to fight environmental regulation, documents show

Revealed: documents from the early 1990s show oil giant looked to make tax-exempt donations to promote the companys interests

Oil giant Mobil sought to make tax-exempt donations to leading universities, civic groups and arts programmes to promote the companys interests and undermine environmental regulation, according to internal documents from the early 1990s obtained by the Guardian.

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    The documents shine a light on the ways corporations have used their money to buy influence, amass prestige and shape public policy through grants to academic programmes and advocacy groups.

    The documents come to light as ExxonMobil, formed when Mobil merged with Exxon in 1999, is now facing investigations by multiple state attorneys general over claims it failed to communicate known climate crisis-related risks to investors and the public.

    The documents, dated in 1993 and provided to the Guardian by the Climate Investigations Center, show the Mobil Foundation justified spending by detailing major benefits to Mobil they expected in return for more than 80 proposed grants for 1994 a practice not-for-profit experts said may have violated federal law.

    The foundation wrote that its grants for not-for-profits could help Mobil fight environmental regulation, fund scientists whose work had been favorably received by the industry and prepare Mobil to defend itself against lawsuits following oil spills and industrial accidents.

    For example, in a one-page entry listing past Mobil grants, the company was successful in having the National Safety Council Board of Directors pass a resolution opposing the mandating of any alternative fuel, the foundation wrote. Grants for the council totalled nearly a quarter-million dollars, according to the entry, which recommended further grants for the coming year.

    The internal grant-making recommendations and records, many marked confidential, cover $1.2m worth of funding about 10% of the foundations annual budget. More than two-thirds of the roughly 120 full-page grant recommendations predict specific benefits for the oil giant.

    Justifications for offering money to not-for-profits and universities included:

    • Global warming is likely to be the key international environmental issue of the 1990s, the foundations internal records predicted in 1993, adding that climate regulation was a real possibility within the next five years. The foundation recommended a $25,000 grant to the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University to help Mobil develop personal relationships with some of the key experts on this issue and enable Mobil to participate in the debate on these regulations.

    • The Mobil Foundation recommended contributing a total of $25,000 to the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, saying the center had already effectively argued against tighter fuel economy standards and influenced Americas toxic air pollution laws, and its stances may help keep Mobils costs down in future.

      Mobils environmental expenditures exceeded $1bn in 1992, the document said. Without a greater appreciation of scientific risk analysis, those costs will continue to escalate as environmental rules and programs are made excessively stringent in response to the publics unfounded panic over relatively minor incidents.

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