Massachusetts filed suit against ExxonMobil on Thursday, claiming the oil giant misled investors about the risk climate change posed to its business and deceived consumers about the oil company’s role in contributing to the climate crisis.
Massachusetts follows New York’s lead is suing the world’s largest investor-owned oil and gas company for climate fraud. While the New York case, which went to trial this week, is specific to how the company allegedly misled investors on climate, the Massachusetts complaint is much broader.
“ExxonMobil is misrepresenting and failing to disclose to its investors the climate risks that the world and ultimately its business faces,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey wrote in a legal complaint filed Thursday in state Superior Court against ExxonMobil. “And in its consumer marketing materials, ExxonMobil now falsely holds itself out as a leader in finding climate solutions, all while pursuing record levels of fossil fuel production, sales, and profits.”
In response to the suit, Exxon spokesperson Scott Silvestri called the move a “baseless complaint” following a “politically motivated investigation."
"We look forward to refuting the meritless allegations in court,” Silvestri told BuzzFeed News by email.
The Massachusetts attorney general’s office has been investigating Exxon for more than three years. During the course of the investigation, Exxon sued to stop or delay the probe in Massachusetts, New York, and Texas courts, according to Healey.
Exxon’s lawyers have also refused to hand over any documentation or provide any witnesses, Healey said. Consequently, the Massachusetts prosecutors have been forced to investigate the company through other means, including reviewing documents obtained in the New York case. Additional documents could be unearthed in the discovery process of that lawsuit, Healey told BuzzFeed News.
“We know this case won’t be easy,” said Healey on a press call. “Exxon fights every effort.”
Exxon’s own scientists studied climate change and how fossil fuels contributed to it back in the 1970s and 1980s, according to reporting from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times. The company later shifted away from that work and launched a widespread public relations campaign to spread doubt about the scientific consensus, alongside secretly funded misinformation campaigns. In both the New York and Massachusetts lawsuits, state attorneys general are accusing the company of continuing to be misleading about climate risks today.
In response to an online campaign called #ExxonKnew, the company has taken out ads on Google and promoted tweets on Twitter pushing back against the climate fraud allegations. “ExxonKnew is a coordinated campaign perpetuated by activist groups with the aim of stigmatizing ExxonMobil,” the company’s site states.
Massachusetts is seeking monetary penalties against the company, asking for $5,000 per each violation under Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act. When asked exactly how much the state was seeking, Healey declined to offer a number, instead saying it could add up to “untold amounts” and that “every sale of gas, every sale of securities could be contemplated.”