MANHATTAN (CN) – Extinguishing one front of Exxon’s scorched-earth counteroffensive, a federal judge found Thursday that the oil giant cannot use a federal lawsuit to fight state probes examining whether its climate change denials amount to fraud.
“The relief requested by Exxon in this case is extraordinary: Exxon has asked two federal courts — first in Texas, now in New York — to stop state officials from conducting duly-authorized investigations into potential fraud,” U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni wrote in a 48-page ruling.
“It has done so on the basis of extremely thin allegations and speculative inferences,” her fiery opinion continues.
For New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose team announced their probe of Exxon in November 2015, Caproni’s rejection of such a “frivolous, nonsensical lawsuit” laid bare the oil giant’s legal strategy.
“At every turn in our investigation, Exxon has tried to distract and deflect from the facts at hand,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “But we will not be deterred: our securities fraud investigation into Exxon continues.”
Together with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, Schneiderman has been looking into whether Exxon misleads shareholders about how climate change could affect their business. The case that they have building has been called the fossil-fuel analogue to the racketeering case that brought down major tobacco companies.
Both investigations began in the wake of a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles in the Los Angeles Times and InsideClimate News reporting that ExxonMobil scientists privately confirmed the effects of a warming planet as early as the 1970s.
Using its hefty resources as the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company, Texas-based ExxonMobil enlisted think tanks, junk scientists and lobbyists in a misinformation campaign, the articles reported.
Caproni noted that Exxon then went to the state and federal courts in New York and Texas where the company is based, “running roughshod over the adage that the best defense is a good offense.”
Vocal in likening the probes against them to a “witch hunt,” Exxon claimed that the state prosecutors had retaliated against the company for its views on climate change, but Caproni found little evidence for political animus against the company.
“The factual allegations against the AGs boil down to statements made at a single press conference and a collection of meetings with climate-change activists,” she said. “Some statements made at the press conference were perhaps hyperbolic, but nothing that was said can fairly be read to constitute declaration of a political vendetta against Exxon.”
Exxon did not lack for legal firepower in this effort.
“The legal jiu-jitsu necessary to pursue this strategy would be impressive had it not raised serious risks of federal meddling in state investigations and led to a sprawling litigation involving four different judges, at least three lawsuits, innumerable motions and a huge waste of the AGs’ time and money,” Caproni added in a footnote.
Exxon’s attorney Ralph Duggins, from the Fort Worth, Texas-based firm Cantey Hanger LLP, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.