In a game changing move in the discussion on climate change, U.S. attorneys are now investigating whether ExxonMobil executives misled the world and their investors about global warming.
New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman and U.S. Rep Ted Lieu have opened investigations into whether ExxonMobil executives engaged in deceptive business practices and securities fraud.
They’ve been subpoenaed under the Martin Act under allegations the company misled investors on the dangers of climate change.
The New York Times first broke the news of the investigation earlier this month, reporting the government was demanding extensive financial records, internal emails, advertising documents, and a slew of other internal documents.
Schneiderman is seeking evidence ExxonMobil funded outside groups whose purpose was to undermine climate change research despite research from the company’s own scientists that global warming was real.
The parallel to Tabaco companies hiding research on the harmful effects of smoking is obvious. If the government can prove ExxonMobil knew about the dangers of climate change, there would be significant repercussions around the world.
ExxonMobil denies any wrongdoing and issued a statement unequivocally rejecting allegations the company misled the public or hid evidence about fossil fuels and their contribution to climate change.
Inside Climate News first published an investigative piece earlier this year reporting Exxon Mobil’s own scientists warned company executives about the danger of climate change as early as 1977.
“In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.”
The Los Angeles Times then published an investigative expose reporting Exxon Mobil studied climate change extensively, especially in the Arctic, to help the company plan large scale construction projects.
“We considered climate change in a number of operational and planning issues. If you don’t do it, and your competitors do, you’re at a loss.”
The New York attorney general has also been investigating the nation’s largest coal producer, Peabody Energy, for the past two years under similar allegations.
Meanwhile, U.S. Congressman Ed Lieu from Los Angeles has written the Securities and Exchange Commission, asking they investigate Exxon Mobil as well, reports the Christian Science Monitor.
“We are deeply troubled by recent media reports alleging that ExxonMobil intentionally obfuscated the role of fossil fuels in influencing climate change. We request your agency investigate ExxonMobil’s past filings to determine if securities laws were violated by failing to appropriately disclose material risks related to climate change.”
The story has now taken on a life of its own with the hashtag #ExxonKnew trending on Twitter followed by what #ExxonDid.
Media stories from high profile newspapers as well as bloggers have sprung up across the internet with opinions ranging from outrage over Exxon Mobil’s actions to supporters defending the company. Climate change deniers have accused Schneiderman of pandering to progressive liberals.
Bill McKibben, co-founder of the environmental group 350.org, told US News Schneiderman’s investigations could mark the beginning of a new legal chapter in the fight to address climate change.
Previous attempts by private parties to sue fossil companies over climate change have largely ended in failure, but this is the first time the government has taken such action.
“New York’s attorney general has shown great courage in holding to account arguably the richest and most powerful company on Earth. We hope that other state attorneys general and the federal Department of Justice, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, will show similar fortitude.”
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