Exxon Mobil can’t dodge state climate change probes, judge says
Exxon Mobil Corp.’s attempt to derail a multistate fraud investigation into the company’s public comments about climate change flamed out in a New York court.
U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan on Thursday dismissed Exxon Mobil’s lawsuit claiming officials in New York and Massachusetts conspired with environmental groups in planning the securities-fraud probe and made up their minds about its outcome before it started.
In its tactic of suing in federal courts in New York and Texas to stop the state probes, Exxon Mobil was “running roughshod over the adage that the best defense is a good offense,” Caproni said in her ruling.
The win provides headway for New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and his counterpart in Massachusetts, Maura Healey, to finish their investigations, which have been delayed by legal wrangling. They’ll ultimately decide whether there’s enough evidence of wrongdoing by Exxon Mobil to sue the energy giant and seek damages.
The attorneys general claimed Exxon was improperly attempting to use the federal court system to impinge their state investigatory powers.
The states have been investigating since 2015 whether Exxon Mobil misled the public and investors about the reality of climate change, including the ways it could impact the company’s finances. They’re also examining whether Exxon Mobil properly valued its reserves based on what its scientists projected.
Exxon Mobil claimed the evidence of political motivation includes meetings the attorneys general had with environmental groups and Schneiderman’s claim at the press conference that former President Barack Obama’s environmental agenda was being opposed by “morally vacant” forces.
The judge said the Irving-based company offered “extremely thin allegations and speculative inferences.”
“The factual allegations against the AGs boil down to statements made at a single press conference and a collection of meetings with climate-change activists,” she wrote. “Some statements made at the press conference were perhaps hyperbolic, but nothing that was said can fairly be read to constitute declaration of a political vendetta against Exxon.”
Exxon Mobil spokesman Scott Silvestri didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the ruling.
Healey said in a statement that Thursday’s ruling is a turning point in an investigation that’s been hindered by Exxon Mobil’s refusal to cooperate.
“Massachusetts customers and investors deserve answers from Exxon about what it has known about the impact of burning fossil fuels on its business and the planet, and whether it hid this information from the public,” Healey said.