Mass. Top Court Won't Quash AG Climate Probe Of Exxon

Saturday, 14 Apr, 2018

The highest court in MA ruled against Exxon Mobil in the company's bid to block the state's attorney general from obtaining records to investigate whether the oil and gas giant knew about the role fossil fuels played in climate change.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled Friday morning that the state attorney general had jurisdiction to investigate the climate-related offenses by Exxon, which included probing whether the company violated the state's consumer protection law when it marketed or sold its products.

During oral arguments in December, an attorney for the oil giant claimed it did not sell gasoline in MA and said that individual franchises, not Exxon, are responsible for local advertising.

"We're evaluating the court's ruling and considering our next steps", said Scott Silvestri, a company spokesman.

The ruling is the second blow to the Irving, Texas-based oil and gas giant in the last month. Last month, a federal district court judge in NY also dismissed ExxonMobil's federal lawsuit.

On a conference call with reporters Friday, Healey said the company has yet to provide her office with a single document. The state Supreme Judicial Court's decision on Friday upheld the lower court judge's order. There is ample evidence that the company knew decades ago that its products, fossil fuels, are the main contributor to climate change.

Exxon responded to the investigation by filing suit against Healey in Texas and by petitioning a ma court claiming the lack of jurisdiction and alleging that Healey's investigation was politically motivated.

"We conclude that there is personal jurisdiction over Exxon with respect to the Attorney General's investigation, and that the judge did not abuse her discretion in denying Exxon's requests to set aside the C.I.D., disqualify the Attorney General, and issue a stay".

She also rejected the company's contention that Healey's request for documents that date back to the 1970s was "overbroad and unduly burdensome", and subject to a four-year statute of limitations.

Weighing in on the overall environmental threat at the heart of the dispute, the court wrote that Healey's investigation concerns climate change "caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions - a distinctly modern threat that grows more serious with time, and the effects of which are already being felt in MA".

Healey, along with the attorney general of NY, launched probes into ExxonMobil after news reports in 2015 suggested the company had encouraged climate-change confusion for years after its own scientists knew about the dangers of burning fossil fuels.

"We find no support for Exxon's position either in law (Exxon fails to cite any case) or logic". The question is whether ExxonMobil broke any of the Commonwealth's laws when, despite that knowledge, it sought to confuse the public and policymakers about climate science and block state and federal action to address global warming.

The decision is welcome news for Healey, who since starting the investigation has been forced to fend off a wave of Exxon's legal pushback in Massachusetts, Texas and NY.