Book: Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power

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“Unknown Injury”


On most mornings during the summer of 2001, Mandy Lindeberg tried to rise early, to beat ExxonMobil’s biologists onto the beaches. She slept aboard the Kittywake II, a seventy-two-foot converted wooden tug that she, and a small team of researchers, had chartered on behalf of her employer, the United States government, and in particular the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (N.O.A.A.), which monitored the world’s oceans and weather. Her goal that summer was to survey ninety-one beach segments in Prince William Sound. Under the design of Lindeberg’s study, she and her team would dig at least seven thousand holes. Each day, they shoveled away rocks and sediment on the beaches to a depth of fifty centimeters and then examined the pits for evidence of oil—perhaps left over from the Exxon Valdez spill twelve years earlier, or perhaps from some other source. When they found some, they scooped samples into jars.

As she moved from place to place, Lindeberg could often see scientists contracted by ExxonMobil following her in the Spirit of Glacier Bay, a 178-foot cruise ship with thirty staterooms. She and her fellow government scientists consulted a Web site about the cruise ship’s luxury features, which they mocked among themselves. An air of rivalry tinted with class and cultural warfare took hold as the summer progressed. Lindeberg could not tell exactly what the ExxonMobil scientists were doing, but they seemed to be monitoring the extent of her pit digging on the beaches. They also dug some of their own holes on the same stretches where she worked. David Janka, a long-haired banjo player and charter captain who worked on related oil research projects with Lindeberg’s team, would peer from the bridge of his motor vessel at the trailing corporate scientists. “The bio-stitutes,” he called them. At least once the ExxonMobil team hired a helicopter to track the movements of the government scientists, Lindeberg recalled.

At times the ExxonMobil scientists would complain that Lindeberg had used up all of the good sampling spots on a particular beach. Lindeberg thought to herself, “You were having eggs Benedict; we were having our gruel and going to the beach first—that’s not my problem.” But she tried to be diplomatic: “My crew arrived here early this morning,” she told them. “You’re welcome to sample here as soon as we are done.”

She was an informal, stout, brown-haired woman in her late thirties who had grown up in the Puget Sound area of the state of Washington. She had studied marine biology in college and then moved to Alaska to work on the marine and wildlife injury assessments after the Exxon Valdez spill; in 1996, she took a position at the National Marine Fisheries Service of N.O.A.A. Most of the year, Lindeberg worked in the state capital of Juneau at the agency’s Auke Bay Laboratories, which included a dilapidated campus of docks, labs, warehouses, and trailers located just off the Glacier Highway. The lab stood on a slope that afforded a spectacular view of Lynn Canal, a part of Alaska’s Inside Passage, which contains fjords teeming with whales, sea lions, and bald eagles. The dress code at Auke Bay was casual. On those rare summer days when the sun shined, the scientists might turn up in shorts and Hawaiian shirts and leave their dogs tied up outside their trailer doors. Almost all of the biologists, chemists, and toxicologists at Auke Bay were, like Lindeberg, long-settled refugees from the Lower 48. Alaska attracted them because of its abundance of understudied natural life. The state also seemed to appeal to personalities with an ornery or independent streak, and the Auke Bay group was no exception.

After the Exxon Valdez spill, the laboratory had become a center for research about the effects of spilled oil on the natural environment. The Auke Bay team increasingly had to cope with the bands of academic scientists (“from back East”) who turned up in Alaska with lucrative contracts from the oil corporation. Initially, ExxonMobil funded forty or fifty researchers to travel to Alaska each summer to work on the subjects that N.O.A.A.’s smaller network of government-funded scientists also explored; by the summer of 2001, the corporate-funded researchers numbered about a dozen. By processes that remained mysterious to the Auke Bay team, but which they chalked up to the ways of a world fueled by money, the studies published with oil corporation funding never seemed to damage ExxonMobil’s legal position that Prince William Sound had fully recovered from the Exxon Valdez spill. The corporation’s studies sometimes produced similar data to those from the government teams, but the ExxonMobil scientists usually reached different conclusions about what the data implied. Still, the Auke Bay team had never experienced anything quite like the shadowing and monitoring that unfolded after Mandy Lindeberg started digging her seven thousand holes.

Twelve years after the accident, Prince William Sound’s rocky beaches looked unsoiled. The initial cleanup undertaken by Exxon in the summers of 1989 and 1990 was almost universally judged a success. But was the oil really gone? Had the fish and wildlife in the area fully recovered? The answers could have legal and financial implications. The original approximately $1 billion settlement among Exxon, the federal government, and the state of Alaska, reached in 1991, contained a Reopener for Unknown Injury clause that allowed the two government parties to seek up to an additional $100 million from ExxonMobil if they could prove environmental damage that was unforeseeable at the time of the original settlement.

There had been signs that oil remained in pockets underneath some of the beaches. Lindeberg’s hole digging might provide evidence to support such a reopener claim. Her summer study was the latest in a series of attempts by N.O.A.A.’s Auke Bay team of biologists and toxicologists to document spilled oil’s lingering and less visible impacts. That research involved fundamental questions about the sources of oil’s harmful effects on natural environments. In the long run, ExxonMobil and the entire oil industry had an economic interest in those findings, too.

The battle between ExxonMobil and N.O.A.A. over Mandy Lindeberg’s work illuminated a larger, recurring aspect of the corporation’s influence over American public life. Whether the subject was the damage caused by oil and gasoline spills, climate change, the safety of chemicals ExxonMobil manufactured, or other critical matters involving public health and the environment, the corporation joined directly in scientific controversies to protect its interests. It contracted with academic scientists, and it brought staff scientists out of ExxonMobil laboratories to lobby Congress and regulatory agencies. ExxonMobil’s science bore all the hallmarks of the corporation’s worldwide strategy: It was well funded, carried out by highly competent individuals, unrelenting in its focus on core business issues, and influenced by the litigation strategies of aggressive lawyers. Even the corporation’s most ardent opponents conceded that the individual ExxonMobil staff scientists they encountered were typically ethical and professional. The question that nagged those on the receiving end of ExxonMobil’s blended campaigns of research, lawsuits, and political lobbying was whether the corporation’s science could be judged honest.

Jeffrey Short, the chemist who served as the lead scientist for Mandy Lindeberg’s hole-digging enterprise, first came north to take a job excavating ditches for N.O.A.A.’s fisheries division on the Alaskan peninsula. He had grown up during the Sputnik era around Edwards Air Force Base, in Lancaster, California, where his father was a rocket engineer. Once, playing outside on a summer evening, Short saw a bright light on the horizon, in the direction of the base; when he came home, his father explained that one of the Atlas rockets he worked on had exploded. Perhaps not surprisingly, the younger Short grew into “one of those nerd kids that was blowing stuff up.” He once forced an evacuation of his family’s house when an experimental vacuum chamber he had made from an old refrigerator compressor spewed sulfur dioxide gas. At the University of California he studied philosophy and biochemistry. He moved into physical chemistry in graduate school and then earned a doctoral degree in fishery biology at the University of Alaska. He grew into a wiry man with thinning brown hair and a face that seemed to radiate bemused curiosity.

Short’s training in both biology and quantitative chemistry drew him toward the chemical mysteries of oil as far back as the 1970s, when the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System first began to pump crude to Valdez. At that time, the U.S. government had not conducted much study about what effects spilled or seeping oil might have on a marine environment such as Prince William Sound. Federal government and oil company research programs provided funding for Short and other scientists to examine the subject.

As of the mid-1970s, most of the research into oil’s poisonous effects on fish and mammals had been derived from the methods used to assess chemical compounds for the insecticide industry. Those methods focused on short-term, or “acute,” toxicity—how much of a particular compound was required to kill half of exposed animals after ninety-six hours of continuous exposure. Such assessments could make clear to manufacturers and regulators which compounds were the most immediately poisonous and required special handling. But ninety-six-hour bioassays, as research chemists refer to them, constitute a narrow way to consider the full toxic potential of a chemical compound. As he began to think about oil, Jeffrey considered that there might be other, longer-term effects on an animal after an initial oil exposure.

Petroleum is referred to as a fossil fuel because it was formed from the remains of ancient algae and zooplankton. (Early in the twentieth century, scientists believed oil came from the remains of dinosaurs; the more recent theory that the source was mainly microscopic plant life is widely accepted, but still relies on some speculation.) The plant residues were gradually transformed into oil across eons by heat and pressure beneath the earth’s surface. Because oil originated in biomass, it is chemically complex; each batch of petroleum presents a distinct blend of hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds. Researchers have characterized only a small percentage of oil’s full chemical makeup, but they have divided the most abundant and easily separable compounds into several classes of hydrocarbons—that is, combinations with distinct arrangements of the elements hydrogen and carbon. One class, known as aliphatic hydrocarbons, is essentially safe for living creatures. Another class, the asphaltenes, is often what is left over after oil is refined by industrial processes; these compounds are used to glue rocks together as asphalt. A third class, called aromatic compounds, has the potential to damage living tissue and biological systems.

About a week after the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef, Jeffrey Short found himself on a boat headed into Prince William Sound to participate in the first round of environmental damage assessments. He was interested in which compounds from the spilled oil were dissolving into seawater, at what concentrations, and at what levels of depth. At first he collected seawater directly, but soon he began to use bay mussels as his measuring instruments. A single mussel will pump a liter of water through itself in an hour as it scavenges for nutritious particles. In the process it will gather and concentrate pollutants with unusual efficiency. Short dropped cages full of mussels into Prince William Sound and lowered them to varying depths—at one, five, and twenty-five meters. “We weren’t really sure how big the impacts were going to be below the surface,” he recalled. “The predominant thinking at the time was that there would not be much in the way of effects.” His mussels provided an initial baseline measurement of oil dissolved in the sound’s seawater.

The traditional studies suggested there should not be large fish kills because the dissolved concentrations of aromatic compounds would not be high enough. Yet scientists never really had had the chance to study this assumption in the field or to explore the possible “sublethal” or subtler, long-term effects of spilled oil, which might damage fish or animals without killing them outright. Short knew it sounded coldhearted, but he regarded the Exxon Valdez accident as a historic opportunity to see how a big oil spill might affect marine life outside a lab.

Of Prince William’s marine inhabitants, salmon and herring were the two species that mattered most, economically. Five large commercial hatcheries dotted the sound’s shores. Together, they formed one of the largest pink salmon hatchery systems in the world. Pink salmon particularly suited Jeffrey Short’s research agenda because the fish’s life cycle and migration patterns are strictly predictable. Whether it is wild or commercially hatched, a pink salmon born in Prince William Sound will swim out from its birthplace to the Gulf of Alaska and return two years later to its exact place of origin.

After their initial water measurements using mussels, Short and his colleagues, along with other government-funded scientists at the Auke Bay Laboratories and elsewhere, studied the mortality rates of salmon hatched from streams along beaches that had been heavily oiled by the Valdez spill. They compared these rates of mortality to those of fish hatched along beaches that had not been oiled. A mystery soon presented itself. Several years after the initial spill, when the surface oil had been cleaned up and the beaches seemed restored, the scientists observed lower survival rates among fish reared downstream from beaches that had earlier been oiled. In the places with the lower survival rates, fish embryos and young fish had likely been exposed to dissolved oil, but in very low concentrations—not enough to harm them, according to traditional bioassay studies.

One possibility was that dissolved aromatic compounds from oil might have harmful effects on fish embryos or fish development at much lower levels of concentration than previously believed. If so, the toxic compounds might create defects in young fish that could be difficult to detect through clinical observation because the fish wouldn’t necessarily all die of the same cause; their weakened condition might play out in an ocean environment, over the fish’s lifetime, in varied and unpredictable ways. As evidence emerged to support this hypothesis, one of the scientists working with Short, Ron Heintz, had an inspiration: Auke Bay could set up its own pink salmon hatchery, expose embryos and young fish to varying levels of oil, send the fish out to sea, and count their mortality rates two years later, when they reliably returned to their birthplace. “Here’s an idea!” Short exclaimed when he heard the proposal. “We should do that!” It was an expensive and risky experiment by government standards—more than a half million dollars. But they won approval in 1996.

Over the next several springs, Auke Bay’s scientists and their collaborators tagged tens of thousands of pink salmon and then counted and examined the fish as they returned. This work produced a significant scientific discovery: Dissolved or exposed oil did have a sublethal toxic effect at levels of concentration many hundreds of times lower than previous research had suggested was dangerous. (The scientists could not initially explain why oil caused elevated mortality rates, only that it did. Later research by other scientists showed that oil exposure could damage a fish’s heart as it developed, which in turn damaged the circulation system and sometimes produced early death. The Auke Bay scientists later found the same effect when they studied herring and cod embryos; other scientists would reproduce the results with zebra fish and mummichogs.) The damage caused by oil exposure did not seem to be passed down from one generation of fish to the next, however; at least, Jeffrey Short’s team could not demonstrate such an intergenerational effect. Salmon populations steadily recovered in Prince William Sound after the initial disruptions. The single-generation effects of oil toxicity meant ExxonMobil was probably off the hook for further financial damages on that score.

Still, as a result of the Auke Bay’s post-Valdez work, the underlying science about the dangers of oil spills to marine environments had been revised, at least in the opinion of the N.O.A.A. team and other scientists who reviewed and duplicated their findings. This might influence the environmental liabilities of ExxonMobil and other oil corporations when other spills occurred. “It was a really unexpected and pretty profound change” in how scientists “viewed oil toxicity,” Short said.

As the team’s work was published, ExxonMobil began to fund competing studies using other methodologies and sample sizes; all of the studies the corporation supported challenged the premise that oil was dangerous in the way that the N.O.A.A. team suggested. ExxonMobil employed many chemists in its refinery and research divisions. Its scientists did not dispute the notion that certain aromatic compounds such as benzene, toluene, and xylene could be dangerous to living beings. However, ExxonMobil did not accept the finding by the N.O.A.A. scientists that dissolved oil present in a natural breeding ground might harm embryo development, even after the Auke Bay’s original salmon study was replicated and extended to other species.

The corporation’s resistance and argumentation did not particularly bother Short, once the confirming studies from other noncorporate scientists came in. “I think in the wider scientific community we’ve won that battle, because other people have independently replicated it and figured out the biochemical mechanisms underlying it, and in fact there’s some really elegant work done by people who are not us. So they [ExxonMobil] can have that position if they like, but most people think it’s flawed.”

In 1999, to memorialize the tenth anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill, reporters and camera crews descended on Prince William Sound. ExxonMobil spokespeople emphasized that the sound’s beaches were free of oil—as was true, at least on the surface—and that wildlife in the region had recovered, as was also true, generally speaking. And yet some area residents claimed that they had accidentally set a few oiled Prince William Sound beaches on fire while camping. Dave Janka had discovered beaches around Knight Island where he could easily dig beneath the rocks and find pockets of fresh oil. Where had the oil come from? Was it left over from the Valdez? During the tenth anniversary season, Janka ferried media crews to those beaches and helped the reporters dig out handfuls of oil to show their audiences. “There was a considerable range of opinion” about whether Prince William Sound remained burdened by submerged Valdez oil, Jeffrey Short recalled. So, around the time of the anniversary, he proposed a study “to actually measure how much oil was on the beach, which had never been done before and was widely viewed as impossible.” Given the findings about oil’s sublethal effects, if the oil was still around the Sound, hidden, it might pose persistent dangers.

Two scientists at the United States Geological Survey, Jim Bodkin and Brenda Bellachey, were in the meantime intrigued by a second biological mystery in local wildlife populations. Scientists funded by a trust established with proceeds from the Exxon legal settlement had discovered elevated levels of an enzyme known as P450 in sea otters and harlequin ducks. Biologists sometimes track the enzyme because it increases in an animal’s liver if the creature is exposed to oil or other pollutants. Where was the pollution coming from? All of the scientists studying Prince William Sound could see that residual oil on the surface of the beaches was declining almost to the vanishing point, and that tides and rain were chipping away at what little remained on the surfaces of rocks. Did significant quantities of oil that nobody could see persist around the sound and were they somehow getting into the sea otters’ food chain or ecosystem?

If there was persistent oil, it had to lie below the surface. Jeep Rice, a biologist at Auke Bay who specialized in toxicology, Mandy Lindeberg, and Jeffrey Short recruited a statistician to help them design a random sampling on the sound’s beaches. On each beach segment, they would stretch out surveyor’s tape and implant stakes to initially divide beaches into squares, at randomly selected locations, and then dig. Short feared that the whole project could prove to be an embarrassment; they would dig seven thousand holes, spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, and find perhaps four or five pockets of persistent Valdez oil. As it turned out, Mandy Lindeberg’s pit-digging teams almost immediately struck fresh oil—oil that had not been weatherized into relatively harmless tar balls, but which seemed to be preserved beneath the rocks, as fresh—and toxic—as the day it spilled from the Exxon Valdez. Her initial findings meant that fresh oil had survived in many more places inhabited by the sound’s wildlife than had previously been contemplated, which might have implications for ExxonMobil’s liability under the reopener clause. Accounts of her initial findings reached the Alaskan press in May 2001. “Within about a week,” recalled her colleague Jeep Rice, “she’s being followed” by the ExxonMobil cruise ship.

Letters arrived at Auke Bay from O’Melveny & Myers, a large corporate law firm based in Los Angeles. They contained Freedom of Information Act requests from ExxonMobil demanding all of the documents, plans, and preliminary research findings in the federal government’s possession concerning not only the seven-thousand-hole study Lindeberg had started, but other studies the Auke Bay scientists had undertaken about the possible toxic effects of oil on the environment.

Jeffrey Short published a newspaper essay that summer in which he described the findings of N.O.A.A.’s work examining the legacy of the Exxon Valdez spill: “Much more oil was found than anticipated—around 200 times more than claimed by Exxon’s contractor.” Sea otters and some bird species that forage on beaches where oil remained beneath the surface “have biochemical markers that indicate they are still exposed to oil. It appears that oil may still be a factor impeding their recovery, possibly through ingestion of oiled prey.”

The Auke Bay scientists knew that their findings would be provocative, but the response they drew this time went beyond any line of argument they had heard before. David S. Page, a professor at Bowdoin College in Maine and a scientist under contract with ExxonMobil, published a rejoinder that came close to accusing the Auke Bay scientists of faking their evidence.

It was Page, as it turned out, who had overseen the effort to shadow Lindeberg around the sound during the summer. After inspecting the beaches studied, he wrote, “We saw no evidence that Short dug 7,000 pits. . . . Had thousands been dug, we would have located many more.” The pit sites he could find “were chosen subjectively” by the N.O.A.A. team, he argued; the government scientists had employed an approach that “exaggerates the extent of remaining residues. . . . It indicates a strong bias in Short’s study and raises questions about the scientific validity of its conclusions.” Overall, Page wrote, “Prince William Sound today is as healthy as it would have been if the spill hadn’t happened.”

Page’s published accusations prompted an internal review at N.O.A.A. to determine whether Short and his colleagues had indeed committed fraud. “It’s against the law for civil servants to take the public’s money and make stuff up,” as Short put it later. Eventually, the investigators exonerated the Auke Bay team. Short hired lawyers and fired off cease-and-desist letters to Page and to the administration of Bowdoin College; he accused his adversary of defamation. Neither Page nor the college took any action in response.

David Page was an academic scientist who had been working on the biological effects of oil spills since the mid-1980s. After the Exxon Valdez accident, he received contracts from the oil corporation, as well as from other funders, such as the state of Maine. Over the years he had come to regard the government scientists at N.O.A.A. as rent seekers who perpetuated a narrative of persistent oil pollution in order to justify their professional funding and projects. “It’s like the Arabian Nights—if you run out of stories, you get your head cut off,” he said. “They kept doing research long after it would do any good.”

It was with Page’s collaboration that ExxonMobil began to deliver the Freedom of Information Act (F.O.I.A.) requests to the Auke Bay Laboratories at a rate sometimes as high as four per week. Whenever Short or Rice made a public presentation of their findings, “an Exxon lawyer, biologist or chemist would be in the audience,” and the corporate-affiliated scientists would sometimes stand up to make “an out-and-out attack on our work,” Rice recalled. At one conference in San Diego, Rice had heard enough; he “got up and told them I thought it was a classless act. People attending were shocked—it’s not something you normally see.”

Pete Hagen, a biologist who arrived at Auke Bay as the program manager for Exxon Studies, a title that referred to N.O.A.A.’s research into the Valdez’s impact, found that his views about the scientists working for ExxonMobil hardened as time went on and as F.O.I.A. requests accumulated on his desk. “They may want to wear down government scientists,” he reflected. “Beyond harassment, we don’t know what Exxon’s motivation is.” His thinking about the oil corporation and its allies in the scientific community “has become more extreme,” he admitted. He felt that their willingness to bend data to serve the corporation’s legal and business aims was “not too dissimilar to what the tobacco industry went through, or the lead industry. . . . Sometimes you win by persistence.” For his part, Jeep Rice regarded ExxonMobil’s tactics as “legal, but just immoral.” Jeffrey Short resented ExxonMobil’s drive to “access data before we’d even published it, which put us in the position of giving data before we interpreted it—giving them, in theory, the chance to write up papers before we did.”

For David Page, too, the arguments about science in Prince William Sound grew personal. He found the N.O.A.A. scientists’ responses to his criticisms of their research to be “shrill . . . I wasn’t accusing them of fraud. I was just saying my observations were at variance with what they were claiming.” In fact, his published essay did come close to implying that Short’s team had faked its hole digging, but after the initial, accusatory exchanges, Page did not return to that charge. He supported Exxon’s Freedom of Information Act demands because Jeffrey Short “rarely presents data” and “the only way” you can get detailed information underlying his studies is to make a formal legal request. “F.O.I.A. is not harassment; F.O.I.A. is to find out important information that government agencies aren’t willing to let become public,” Page said. As to Short’s concern that ExxonMobil was seeking raw data in order to advance arguments in public before the government scientists could, he said, “The record shows that our requests were made well after published reports were made in various venues, often several years or more after the studies were done.”

Science is innately uncertain. Its progress has been marked again and again by the defiance of settled wisdom by independent-minded mavericks, from Galileo Galilei to Charles Darwin. It can be difficult even for excellent scientists to distinguish between a revolutionary new insight and plain foolishness. Vested interests—governments, clergy, or private corporations—have long sought to control and manage the policy implications of scientific findings. Only in an environment of free debate can the best scientific facts and interpretations eventually win out. Even where new facts affecting the public welfare become well established, as had occurred with the research into global warming by 2001, it does not follow from scientific logic which public policy response is the best one; in the case of climate change, the economic costs of full and rapid remediation would be high. Governance and economics are not hard sciences, despite the contrary aspirations of some of their theorists and practitioners.

Yet, the environment in which ExxonMobil and the Bush administration devised parallel approaches to managing science and public policy in the age of oil spills and global warming was influenced by several factors that Darwin would not have recognized. One was the prominence of lawyers and their win-for-the-client mind-sets. The tobacco industry’s near bankruptcy had demonstrated that not even talented lawyers could overcome terrible facts in a product liability matter. Yet that example had also shown how industry funding and purposeful, subtle campaigning could profitably delay a legal reckoning for a dangerous product through the manipulation of public opinion, government policy, and scientific discourse.

The scientific facts about oil pollution and climate change that ExxonMobil and its political and intellectual allies in Washington had to manage as the Bush administration took office were nowhere near as daunting as those that confronted the tobacco industry when the dangers of smoking were publicly recognized in the early 1960s. By comparison, the public health effects from the burning of fossil fuels were often indirect. The American economy’s dependence upon oil and gas was not the product of some clever marketing campaign, as cigarette smoking arguably was, but was embedded in technological and industrial evolution.

When regulators or lawsuits challenged ExxonMobil’s liability on environmental matters, the corporation turned fiercely combative—Irving’s internal protocols provided for rapid intervention by ExxonMobil’s law department, which spent large sums on the most talented and aggressive outside litigation firms. “They took a very hard line on the legal issues,” explained a member of the corporation’s board of directors. “It’s very much a take-no-prisoners culture.” From Washington to Houston to capitals worldwide, ExxonMobil executives internalized the corporation’s attitude toward lawsuits of all kinds: “We will not settle just to avoid a struggle; if we believe we are in the right, we will use our superior resources to fight and appeal for as long as possible, and when the case is over, your house may no longer be standing. Think twice before you take us on.” ExxonMobil’s spokespeople and lobbyists regularly expressed dismay that the scientific findings they presented about the Valdez cleanup, climate, chemical regulation, and other public policy issues were not accepted by journalists, judges, and politicians as fully credible.

David Page knew that the government scientists thought of him as a corporate shill, and he felt insulted by that accusation. “It’s not about corporate America,” he said. “To compare Exxon to a tobacco company is totally outrageous. They are two very different things. I will tell you, my livelihood was teaching students chemistry and biochemistry. I didn’t need to work for Exxon or anybody else. If I thought for a minute that I was being asked to say something that wasn’t true or to hide information or act in [an] indefensible way at all, I would have taken a hike and not had any further relationship. I don’t hold my nose when I’m talking.”

Jeffrey Short ultimately quit his government job in part because of the distractions caused by the corporation’s unrelenting Freedom of Information Act requests. “We’re all scientists—we didn’t sign up to do that,” he said.

Mandy Lindeberg could think of only one positive aspect of her experience as an ExxonMobil adversary. Knowing that every field note she and her colleagues made would be scrutinized by corporate litigators and scientific consultants, she said, “forced us to be very good scientists.”

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