Did Exxon mislead investors? Probe widens

New York Attorney-General Eric Schneiderman's office subpoenaed Exxon documents last November.
New York Attorney-General Eric Schneiderman's office subpoenaed Exxon documents last November.

NEW YORK • Massachusetts became the latest state investigating whether Exxon Mobil Corporation misled investors and the public about how climate change may affect its business.

News of the state's probe came as part of a larger announcement on Tuesday by attorneys-general from California to New York who are joining forces to fight global warming and look into whether companies have understated its effects. The group of 17 states and territories may jointly investigate the climate change disclosures of individual oil and natural gas companies, according to a statement from New York Attorney-General Eric Schneiderman.

Any resulting litigation could resemble that brought by the Justice Department against cigarette makers in 1999, said Ms Sharon Eubanks, who served as the United States' lead lawyer in that case, and now works in private practice with Bordas & Bordas. "There are a lot of similarities between federal tobacco litigation and activities we know Exxon has engaged in at this point," Ms Eubanks said in a phone interview.

The government would most likely try to bring civil racketeering claims, attempting to show that individuals at Exxon funded front groups to undermine science, or defrauded investors by making business decisions based on what it knew, but did not disclose, about climate change, she said.

Massachusetts joins New York in looking into whether Exxon's climate-change disclosures were misleading. New York's probe has been active since at least November, when Mr Schneiderman's office subpoenaed Exxon documents.

The group formed on Tuesday is part of an even broader coalition of 25 states, cities and counties defending President Barack Obama's plan to cut emissions from US power plants and generally fighting for cuts in greenhouse gas pollution.

Exxon's vice-president of public and government affairs Suzanne McCarron described climate change allegations levelled against the company as "politically motivated and based on discredited reporting funded by activist organisations". The company is "assessing all legal options", she said in an e- mailed statement.

New York's probe followed articles by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times alleging Exxon's scientists discovered evidence that man-made emissions were changing the climate as far back as 1977.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2016, with the headline 'Did Exxon mislead investors? Probe widens'. Print Edition | Subscribe