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Rex Tillerson may have to answer to whether ExxonMobil misled investors about climate change

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NEW YORK  — “Wayne Tracker” cannot be forced to testify under oath. He does not exist.

But the man who used the “Tracker” alias, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, can be questioned — and is increasingly expected to be — as New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman expands his sweeping probe into whether Tillerson’s former employer, ExxonMobil, misled investors about the impact of climate change.

Schneiderman’s office considers the nation’s chief diplomat a central figure in a case that pits the ambitious Democrat against a Texas energy giant and has divided attorneys general nationwide. Republican state prosecutors from South Carolina to Utah, like Exxon’s high-profile legal team, accuse the New York attorney general of abusing the power of his office to score political points with his liberal base on a politically explosive issue.

It remains unclear whether Schneiderman will ultimately force Tillerson to answer questions under oath, but he told The Associated Press he has the legal authority to question the secretary of state, who served as Exxon’s CEO until joining President Donald Trump’s administration.

“We haven’t gotten to the point where that’s necessary, but yeah, we have the legal right to conduct depositions. I don’t know that we’re going to have to get to Mr. Tillerson, but sure,” Schneiderman told the AP when asked whether he has the right to question Tillerson.

The New York attorney general’s nonchalant tone does not reflect the intensity of the case or his office’s expectation that it will likely lead to Tillerson. But in an investigation that has already spanned 18 months and forced Exxon to release roughly 3 million internal documents, the confrontation could be several months or even years away.

Schneiderman opened the Exxon investigation in November 2015, shortly after reaching a settlement with another fossil fuel giant, Peabody Coal. In that case, Schneiderman’s office determined that the coal company misled shareholders, regulators and the public about the company’s financial risks related to climate change.

Now, Schneiderman is using the subpoena power of his office to determine whether Exxon did the same.

The New York attorney general’s office says the investigation has already uncovered “Exxon’s significant potential investor fraud,” including evidence that Tillerson himself may have approved accounting discrepancies.

After being forced to produce internal communications about the impact of climate change on its business, Exxon earlier this year acknowledged that Tillerson used the “Wayne Tracker” alias during email communications. The company says the alias was created to help the former CEO avoid a flood of messages after environmental activists obtained his actual email address.

Most of the “Tracker” emails have been permanently deleted, Exxon says, citing the company’s regular practice of destroying emails after a certain period of time. Exxon officials testified that the company allowed several months of Tillerson’s emails to be deleted even after Schneiderman’s office flagged them for preservation.

For now, Exxon says that many of the messages can be retrieved by collecting emails from those he communicated with.

Exxon’s legal team features Ted Wells, who previously represented tobacco giant Philip Morris and drugmakers Merck and Johnson & Johnson. Wells declined an on-the-record interview request, but he lashed out at Schneiderman in aggressive terms during a recent court hearing.

He cast Schneiderman as an ambitious politician stuck in a lengthy and expensive fishing expedition. For Schneiderman to conclude his yearslong investigation without bringing a formal lawsuit against Exxon, Wells said, would deeply disappoint Schneiderman’s liberal supporters before his 2018 re-election.

“This is not a normal investigation. It is a political witch hunt,” Wells told the judge. “They cannot clear Exxon. The attorney general cannot be in a position of clearing the largest fossil fuel oil company in the world.”

The position is backed by Republican attorneys general in 12 states, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief late last month in a related federal case brought by Exxon to try to block Schneiderman’s investigation. They argue that the attorneys general in New York — and Massachusetts, which is also probing Exxon — are abusing their power to prove a political point about climate change.

At the same time, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, is using his congressional subpoena power to seek documents from the New York attorney general’s office detailing communication with environmental groups. Smith also wants to depose Schneiderman himself, an order that the New York Democrat is ignoring.

In a statement to the AP, Schneiderman slammed efforts to “delay and distract” from the investigation and vowed to continue searching “for as long as it takes to get to the bottom of what really happened at Exxon.”

His office will depose nine Exxon witnesses in the coming weeks in a series of lower-level depositions in a chain that is ultimately expected to lead to Tillerson. The State Department declined to comment on Tillerson’s involvement in the Exxon probe. The secretary of state, nominated by the Republican Trump, has retained a private attorney to represent him in the matter.

The judge presiding over Schneiderman’s investigation, New York Supreme Court Justice Barry Ostrager, has been critical about both sides’ behavior.

“If you’re asking me to state on the record that Exxon has behaved in an exemplary manner, I decline to do so,” Ostrager said in a recent hearing. “If Exxon is asking me to state on the record that the New York AG has proceeded in an exemplary manner, I decline to do that also.”

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Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.

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Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.

Colorado

Western wild fires continue to rage as authorities worry over July 4 fireworks

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A growing wildfire destroyed more than 100 homes in the Colorado mountains, while other blazes across the parched U.S. West kept hundreds of other homes under evacuation orders and derailed holiday plans.

Authorities announced late Monday that a fire near Fort Garland, about 205 miles (330 kilometers) southwest of Denver, had destroyed 104 homes in a mountain housing development started by multimillionaire publisher Malcolm Forbes in the 1970s. The damage toll could rise because the burn area is still being surveyed.

Tamara Estes’ family cabin, which her parents had built in 1963 using wood and rocks from the land, was among the homes destroyed.

“I think it’s sinking in more now. But we’re just crying,” she said. “My grandmother’s antique dining table and her hutch are gone.”

“It was a sacred place to us,” she added.

Andy and Robyn Kuehler watched flames approach their cabin via surveillance video from their primary residence in Nebraska.

“We just got confirmation last night that the house was completely gone. It’s … a very sickening feeling watching the fire coming towards the house,” the couple wrote in an email Tuesday.

The blaze, labeled the Spring Fire, is one of six large wildfires burning in Colorado and is the largest at 123 square miles (318 square kilometers) — about five times the size of Manhattan. While investigators believe it was started by a spark from a fire pit, other fires, like one that began burning in wilderness near Fairplay, were started by lightning.

Nearly 60 large, active blazes are burning across the West, including nine in New Mexico and six each in Utah and California, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

In Utah, authorities have evacuated 200 to 300 homes because of a growing wildfire near a popular fishing reservoir southeast of Salt Lake City amid hot temperatures and high winds. Several structures have been lost since the fire started Sunday, but it’s unclear how many, said Jason Curry of the Utah Division of Forest, Fire and State Lands.

Darren Lewis and his extended family planned to spend the Fourth of July at a cabin built nearly 50 years ago by his father and uncle in a wilderness area nestled between canyons and near a mountain river.

Instead, Lewis and his family will spend the holiday nervously waiting to hear if a half-century of family memories go up in smoke because of the fire, which has grown to 47 square miles (122 square kilometers).

“There’s a lot of history and memories that go into this cabin,” said Lewis, 44, of Magna, Utah. “The cabin we could rebuild, but the trees that we love would be gone. We’re just hoping that the wind blows the other way.”

Meanwhile, a wind-fueled wildfire in Northern California that continues to send a thick layer of smoke and ash south of San Francisco was threatening more than 900 buildings.

The massive blaze was choking skies with ash and smoke, prompting some officials to cancel Fourth of July fireworks shows and urge people to stay indoors to protect themselves from the unhealthy air.

At least 2,500 people have been told to evacuate as the so-called County Fire continues to spread, said Anthony Brown, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Brown said the blaze, which started Saturday and is surging through rugged terrain northwest of Sacramento, has grown to 113 square miles (294 square kilometers) amid hot and dry weather expected throughout the day. It was 15 percent contained Tuesday.

“The weather is better than what we had over the weekend. But it’s still hampering our efforts and it’s an area of concern,” he said.

So far this year, wildfires have burned 4,200 square miles in the United States, according to the fire center. That’s a bit below last year’s acreage to date — which included the beginning of California’s devastating fire season — but above the 10-year average of 3,600 square miles.

Because of the Independence Day holiday, authorities are also concerned about the possibility of campfires or fireworks starting new fires because of the dry, hot conditions. In Colorado, many communities have canceled firework displays, and a number of federal public lands and counties have some degree of fire restrictions in place, banning things like campfires or smoking outdoors.

In Arizona, large swaths of national forests and state trust land have been closed since before Memorial Day. Some cities have canceled fireworks displays because of extreme fire danger.

In New Mexico, all or part of three national forests remain closed because of the threat of wildfire, putting a damper on holiday camping plans. The forests that are open have strict rules, especially when it comes to fireworks.

“We’re just urging people to use extreme caution,” said Wendy Mason, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico State Forestry Division. “We want people to have fun and enjoy themselves, but we prefer they leave the fireworks shows to the professionals.”

____

Associated Press writers Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City; Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco; Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona; and Alina Hartounian in Phoenix contributed to this report.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
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News

More firefighters called in to rein in Southern Colorado fire

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Crews struggled to rein in a wildfire that was spreading in several different directions Sunday in southern Colorado.
More firefighters were arriving to battle the blaze that has prompted the evacuation of more than 2,000 homes.
“It’s a very challenging fire, I’ll be honest with you, with all the wind changes,” Shane Greer, an incident commander with the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team, told residents Sunday.
Authorities said the fire east of Fort Garland was estimated at 64 square miles (166 sq. kilometers) after unpredictable winds pushed the fire both north and south over the weekend.
About 500 firefighters have worked to contain the flames since the fire began Wednesday. A second team arrived in the area Sunday and plans to take over fighting the fire north of Highway 160.
The first team will focus on the area south of the highway.
“Usually with a fire we can chase it … we haven’t been able to chase this because it keeps going in at least three different directions,” Greer said.
Authorities said they began assessing some areas this weekend to track destroyed or damaged structures. But they cautioned that conditions remain dangerous and said they want to be sure that information is correct before notifying property owners.
The fire was expected to remain active and grow in intensity with a warm and dry forecast on Sunday.
Highway 160 remains closed and officials said they could not estimate when it will reopen or when the evacuation orders will end.
The Costilla County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday said a man was being held on suspicion of arson in connection with the fire. It is not clear if Jesper Joergensen, 52, has an attorney.
At Sunday’s public update, officials said they do not believe Joergensen started the fire intentionally.
State emergency management officials reported nine other fires remained active around the state on Sunday. Officials near Durango hoped that a cold front would slow down one of those. The fire began a month ago and is estimated at 77 square miles.
The Durango Herald reported that authorities planned to relocate some crews and equipment to help firefighters guarding communities as the flames moved north.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
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News

Today we launch the PULP Journalism Project to Support the Capital Gazette and more

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From the Publisher of Colorado’s PULP Newsmagazine to the people who make The Capital Gazette possible.

In this space, we at the PULP had plans to launch Rocket PULP, our PULP Journalism Project. We had planned a huge roll-out of PULP Universe memberships, collaborations with national writers, universities, and local creatives. Most importantly, I wanted to talk about how we rebuild Colorado storytelling for the 21st century.

But with what happened yesterday in Annapolis, Maryland – where journalists at The Capital Gazette were attacked and five people were killed – it’s more appropriate to show you what I believe in as a local publisher to help rebuild another newsroom.

I want the PULP to stand for something more than corporate profits off of local people.
We have been fighting and scratching for Southern Colorado for years now, trying to tell the local story of us as a people. At our core, beyond breaking news and telling stories in this hard region to live, PULP is about the spirit of Southern Colorado through collaboration. I believe if we all win – we all win. In fact, this spirit of “We Are…” has been our guiding principle since 2010.

So instead of asking you to join the PULP Universe in July to fuel Colorado journalism, I’m asking you to join the PULP Universe to help the families in Annapolis. For any new PULP Membership for the entire month of July, we will give half — 50 percent — to The Capital Gazette family.

Why do this? Speaking to you as an owner and publisher, well before the shooting in Maryland, I’d often look out our massive storefront windows and think, “My god, what if we are attacked? How in the world would I take care of my people?” This shooting has affected me personally and this is what I can do to help others.

We may be the new kids on the news block in Colorado, but that doesn’t mean we should act small. In Southern Colorado, you’re taught that we may not have much here, but we are all family – so give if you can, but more importantly, always look to help when you must. Supporting the Capital Gazette is something the PULP Journalism Project must do.

Please give what you can, even if it’s just $1. Let’s show a fellow newsroom that the PULP Universe in Colorado stands for supporting the storytellers across every universe.

To learn more about the PULP Journalism Project follow rocketpulp.com for updates. Our news site can be found at pueblopulp.com, but today go to capitalgazette.com instead.

We Are Friends and Family,
John Rodriguez and the PULP Team
Owner / Publisher of PULP

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
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