BOSTON (CN) – ExxonMobil must comply with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s investigation into whether it suppressed climate change research, the state’s highest court ruled Friday.
Attorney General Maura Healey launched the investigation in March 2016 on the heels of a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles in the Los Angeles Times and InsideClimate News reported that ExxonMobil scientists had internal confirmation as early as the 1970s about the effects of a warming planet.
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.
Healey, the state of Texas and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman quickly convened investigations into whether the oil giant deceived consumers and investors about the impacts of burning fossil fuels on the planet and its business.
Exxon opposed the civil investigative demand, or CID, in both states, suffering the latest defeat to its cause Friday from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
“Exxon protests that its franchisees have nothing to do with climate change and have played no part in disseminating those statements, so the attorney general’s requests cannot ‘arise from’ Exxon’s franchise system,” Associate Justice Elspeth Cypher wrote for the court. “Bearing in mind the basis for the C.I.D. and the attorney general’s investigation, we disagree.”
Healy cheered Friday that the Massachusetts ruling mirrors Schneiderman’s success in New York just two weeks earlier.
“For the second time this month, Exxon’s scorched earth campaign to block our investigation has been entirely rejected by the courts,” Healey said in a statement. “In its decision today, our state’s highest court affirmed that Exxon is subject to our laws, and that our office has the authority to investigate. Now Exxon must come forward with the truth, what it knew about climate change, when, and what it told the world. The people of Massachusetts – and people everywhere – deserve answers.”
Exxon, which has corporate headquarters in New Jersey and Texas, argued that because it was not base out of Massachusetts, it was not under the jurisdiction of the state’s attorney general.
The company operates more than 300 franchises gas stations in the state. Although they are franchises, Exxon retains enough control over the business operations and advertising that it is liability for those franchises under state law. This includes civil investigation demands.
Exxon also argued that Healey should be disqualified from the investigation, claiming that she had revealed a personal bias against it in public statements.
In 2016, Healey took part in a press conference titled “AGs United for Clean Power,” in which she called out the company for alleged deceptions.
“We can all see today the troubling disconnect between what Exxon knew, what industry folks knew, and what the company and industry chose to share with investors and with the American public,” she said, as quoted by Exxon.
The SJC was not convinced that her statements betrayed bias.
“The attorney general is authorized to investigate what she believes to be violations of [the state’s consumer protection law],” the ruling states. “As an elected official, it is reasonable that she routinely informs her constituents of the nature of her investigations.”
A representative for Exxon declined to respond to an email seeking comment.