Exxon Faces Two-Front War With Massachusetts Suit

An ice sculpture fashioned by protesters to demonstrate their view of how the company’s policies are affecting the environment, slowly melts outside the Exxon Mobil shareholders meeting in Dallas on May 31, 2006. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

BOSTON (CN) – As Exxon battles New York on charges that its climate change naysaying amounts to securities fraud, Massachusetts fired off its own suit Thursday accusing the oil giant of misleading investors.

At 211 pages, the complaint in Suffolk Superior Court says Exxon repeatedly violated the state’s consumer and investor protection law and related regulations. 

Specifically, state Attorney General Maura Healey alleges that Exxon systematically and intentionally misled Massachusetts investors about material climate-driven risks to its business and has deceived consumers about the central role its fossil fuel products play in causing climate change.

“Exxon has known for decades about the catastrophic climate impacts of burning fossil fuels — its chief product,” said Healey in a statement. “Yet, to this day, Exxon continues to deceive Massachusetts consumers and investors about the dangerous climate harms caused by its oil and gasoline products and the significant risks of climate change—and efforts to address it—to Exxon’s business.”

According to the Attorney General’s office, as early as 1982, Exxon predicted the exact amount of carbon dioxide that would be in the atmosphere in 2019 — 415 parts per million, the highest level in human history — as a result, largely, of increasing fossil fuel use. The company also recognized that avoiding catastrophic environmental damage might require severe limits to fossil fuel consumption.

But rather than disclosing what it knew about the future impact of its oil and gasoline products on communities and the environment, the complaint alleges that Exxon engaged in a decades-long campaign to deceive consumers and investors about the climate-related impacts of its products that continues to this day.

Aside from allegedly falsely presenting itself as a green company to Massachusetts consumers, Exxon also allegedly withheld the fact from investors that its business practices were unsustainable considering the financial risk that climate change can bring to the global economy.

Healey first served the company with a civil investigative demand in April 2016, after the release of several news stories outlining the company’s decades-long pattern of deception regarding its knowledge about the impact of burning fossil fuels on the climate and the impacts of climate change on its own business. Rather than comply with the investigation, the company sued the AG’s Office in Massachusetts state and federal courts.

Exxon’s attacks on the AG’s Office and its investigation have been rejected by every court to decide them. In January 2017, the Massachusetts Superior Court ordered the company to comply with the AG’s investigation. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the ruling in April 2018, and that same month, the Southern District of New York dismissed Exxon’s federal lawsuit. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Exxon’s request to hear its appeal of the Supreme Judicial Court ruling.

Healey is asking the court to find that the company is violating the state’s Consumer Protection Act and order the company to pay civil penalties to the state, perform comprehensive injunctive relief, and pay the AG’s Office’s reasonable attorney and investigation fees.

A spokesperson from Exxon did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

In Manhattan, a trial over New York’s similar allegations kicked off Tuesday.

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