New York Lost A Landmark Climate Fraud Case Against Exxon

The finding dealt a big blow to climate change activists hoping to use the courts to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their climate disclosures.

A New York judge ruled Tuesday that ExxonMobil did not make misleading statements in public disclosures about the company’s climate change risks, delivering a major win to the oil giant in the highly anticipated climate fraud case.

New York Supreme Court Judge Barry Ostrager found that the New York attorney general “failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence” that the oil giant violated the law “in connection with its public disclosures concerning how ExxonMobil accounted for past, present, and future climate change risks,” according to his decision.

The New York attorney general launched an investigation into Exxon’s alleged climate lies in 2015, and sued the company in 2018 for violating the state’s Martin Act, one of the strongest anti-fraud laws in the nation. In October, this became the first climate fraud case to go to trial in the US.

Exxon celebrated the decision, while New York vowed to keep fighting to hold companies accountable.

"Today’s ruling affirms the position ExxonMobil has held throughout the New York Attorney General’s baseless investigation," Casey Norton, an Exxon spokesperson, wrote in an emailed statement. "We provided our investors with accurate information on the risks of climate change."

"Throughout this case, we laid out how Exxon made materially false, misleading, and confusing representations to the American people," the New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. "Despite this decision, we will continue to fight to ensure companies are held responsible for actions that undermine and jeopardize the financial health and safety of Americans across our country, and we will continue to fight to end climate change."

The judge's opinion made clear that the finding's scope was limited to the state's anti-fraud laws. “Nothing in this opinion is intended to absolve Exxon from responsibility for contributing to climate change through the emissions of greenhouse gases in the production of its fossil fuel products,” Ostrager wrote. “But ExxonMobil is in the business of producing energy, and this is a securities fraud case, not a climate change case.”

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