US Supreme Court rejects Exxon challenge to climate change lawsuit that could reveal 40 years of documents

Massachusetts attorney general is investigating how much firm knew about dangers of its products for world's climate

Clark Mindock
New York
Tuesday 08 January 2019 00:16 GMT
The high court's action marked the latest setback for Exxon in its efforts to halt the Massachusetts investigation
The high court's action marked the latest setback for Exxon in its efforts to halt the Massachusetts investigation (REUTERS)

The US Supreme Court has refused to hear a request from ExxonMobil that would have hampered an investigation into whether the oil giant intentionally covered up the impact that its products have on climate change.

The court denied the motion on Monday, the first day that the court was to hear oral arguments in 2019.

In doing so, the court essentially confirmed that Exxon must turn over 40 years’ worth of documents to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office. New York State has also been investigating the company.

“The law is clear. The Attorney General’s Office has the authority to investigate Exxon’s conduct towards consumers and investors, and we are proceeding. The public deserves answers from this company about what it knew about the impacts of burning fossil fuels, and wen,” Chloe Gotsis, Ms Healey’s spokesperson, said in a statement following the Supreme Court’s decision.

The development follows after a 2017 decision in the Massachusetts Superior Court that first ruled against ExxonMobil. From there, the oil company appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court in the state, which upheld the lower court ruling last year.

The Supreme Courts decision to not hear the case was celebrated by climate scientists and activists.

“Deception and delay are Exxon's core climate strategies. Today the court dealt the company yet another defeat in their fight to hide the fact that they have known for 50 years that their products cause climate change,” Richard Wiles, the executive director of the Centre for Climate Integrity, said in a statement. “Exxon's last ditch effort to avoid turning over additional documents to investigators suggests the company has a whole lot more it's still hiding from the public, shareholders, and policymakers”.

ExxonMobile has not responded to the ruling.

The most recent ruling against Exxon came in April, when the Massachusetts judge said that Exxon could not stop the investigation.

New York and Massachusetts first began their climate change probes after news reports in 2015 suggested that Exxon had known for years that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary to combat climate change impacts, but did not reveal those concerns to shareholders or the public.

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Exxon has denied that their public policies were in any way inconsistent with their scientists' findings that climate change poses a serious risk to its business and to the environment.

While Exxon has gone after the attorneys general in New York and Massachusetts, as many as 15 states are involved in investigating the company for potentially misleading the public about climate change.

Those states first began their investigations in 2016, shortly after the news reports. At the time, officials in the states came together to sign a private compact not to discuss the Exxon probe with anyone outside of their teams, unless compelled to do so legally.

The states said then that their goal was to investigate ways in which they could use federal law to enforce greenhouse gas emissions guidelines, and to investigate whether the fossil fuel industry had broken laws in order to slow or stop the implementation of renewable energy technologies.

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