An intense legal battle is being fought between several states’ Democratic attorneys general and Exxon over an attempt to investigate allegations ExxonMobil was complicit or responsible for fraudulently alleging to be unaware of the ramifications of climate change.
The investigation subpoenaed the oil giant’s records going back 40 years. Exxon filed last month in federal court in Fort Worth to block the probe into their records claiming that the investigation was purely political and an abuse of the power of the attorneys general involved.
One of the attorneys general involved in the investigation, U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker, withdrew his subpoena under extreme pressure from Exxon. Although Walker alleges to be continuing his investigation, the withdrawal is a sign that the Virgin Islands simply lacked the resources to take on the oil company according to Pat Parenteau, an environmental law professor at the Vermont Law School.
Last week, the chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) sent letters to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and several environmental groups threatening to subpoena them in a probe of their investigation.
Despite extreme political and legal pressures being levied against the remaining attorneys general involved in the investigation, Healey’s office remains determined to see the probe carried out.
“For many months, Exxon Mobil has engaged in an unprecedented effort to limit the ability of state attorneys general to investigate fraud and unfair business practices and to protect Massachusetts consumers, investors and the public,” said Healey’s communications director, Cyndi Roy Gonzalez.
Although Exxon has accused the investigation of being baseless, the Massachusetts attorney general contends that according to Exxon’s publicly available documents, the company’s own scientists concluded as early as July 1977 that burning fossil fuels was causing a rise in the average global temperature, and that despite this information other public documents suggest a conscious attempt to deliberately misinform the company’s customers and investors.
Healey’s office is authorized under Massachusetts law to investigate corporate wrongdoing and represent the interests of the commonwealth and its citizens. Under that authority, they decided to investigate Exxon on the grounds that the company may have made intentionally false statements to Massachusetts investors and consumers about the risks of climate change posed by their business.
“Our investigation is based not on speculation but on inconsistencies about climate change in Exxon documents which have been made public,” Gonzalez said.
Exxon also has alleged its statements on climate change are protected speech under the First Amendment, and that Healey’s investigation runs afoul of the statute of limitations on fraud in Massachusetts, allegations that Gonzalez solidly refutes.
“The First Amendment does not protect false and misleading statements in the marketplace,” Gonzalez said. “Exxon’s assertion that we cannot investigate it because the company has not engaged in business here in Massachusetts is completely preposterous and is a clear attempt to delay and distract from the real issues.”
While Exxon seeks injunctive relief from the investigation or the court in Fort Worth to declare it without legal merit, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office intends to see the investigation to its conclusion.
“We will continue to fight aggressively on the basis of our clear legal authority to obtain the information that we need to ensure the Massachusetts public is protected,” Gonzalez told the Southeast Texas Record.