Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey on Thursday sued ExxonMobil for misleading investors and consumers about climate change, topping off a week that saw Democrats and activists take their anti-Exxon campaign into overdrive.
Ms. Healey, who began investigating Exxon following the formation of the 2016 AGs United for Clean Power coalition, said the energy giant for decades made “factual misstatements” and failed to make disclosures about climate change that were material to investment and gasoline-purchasing decisions.
“Exxon has known for decades about the catastrophic climate impacts of burning fossil fuels — its chief product,” Ms. Healey said 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.”
Her lawsuit was filed hours after a judge rejected Exxon’s request to delay the state’s filing until the “climate fraud” trial that began Tuesday in New York wraps up.
In a statement, Exxon spokesman Scott J. Silvestri described the Massachusetts case as “baseless.”
“The Massachusetts attorney general’s office has filed a baseless complaint three years after announcing its politically motivated investigation, during which they have not interviewed a single ExxonMobil employee or gathered one piece of evidence from the company,” he said. “We look forward to refuting the meritless allegations in court.”
The complaint capped a week that saw Democrats and climate activists move to recharge the dormant “Exxon knew” campaign, alleging that the company disregarded its own global-warming research, which Exxon denies.
A team of academics, including Harvard professor and longtime Exxon foe Naomi Orekes, released a report Monday accusing the company of weaving a “web of denial” about climate change, comparing it to the tobacco industry’s deceiving consumers about the dangers of smoking.
The same day, The New York Times ran an op-ed from Rockefeller Family Fund director Lew Wasserman charging Exxon and other oil-and-gas companies with “drilling away” even though they know “the planet is headed toward a climate catastrophe.”
He acknowledged that his philanthropy is financing legal advocacy groups bringing two other lawsuits against Exxon. Rockefeller foundations have been instrumental in funding “Exxon knew” advocacy and journalism.
Protesters gathered Tuesday outside a New York courtroom for the start of a trial pitting the New York attorney general against Exxon, while House Democrats took aim at the company at a subcommittee hearing Wednesday that also featured Ms. Oreskes.
Exxon and its defenders argue that the company’s research on climate change was both widely published and in step with the findings of other studies from the 1970s and 1980s.
The Massachusetts lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, seeks $5,000 in penalties for each violation of the state’s Consumer Protection Act, with each “materially false, deceptive, or misleading statement to a Massachusetts consumer” in connection with the sale of the company’s products would constitute a separate violation.
“We are suing to stop this illegal deception and penalize the company for its misconduct,” Ms. Healey said.
Despite a four-year investigation, the New York attorney general’s office wound up filing a lawsuit taking issue with Exxon’s public and internal accounting practices on carbon, not its role in creating the “climate crisis.”
Greenpeace USA called the New York case “the trial of the century,” while the Wall Street Journal blasted it as a “show trial” and the New York Post called it “a shameless exercise in prosecutorial abuse.”