Oil giant probed for 'telling lies' on climate change

NEW YORK • The New York Attorney-General's Office has begun a sweeping investigation into ExxonMobil to determine whether the oil giant lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how those risks might hurt the oil business.

According to people with knowledge of the probe, Attorney-General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a subpoena on Wednesday to ExxonMobil, demanding extensive financial records, e-mails and other documents.

The focus of the probe includes the company's activities dating back to the late 1970s, including a period of at least a decade when it funded groups that sought to undermine climate science.

A key focus of the investigation is whether the company adequately warned investors about potential financial risks stemming from society's need to limit fossil fuel use. Mr Kenneth P. Cohen, ExxonMobil vice-president for public affairs, on Thursday said the company had received the subpoena and was still deciding how to respond.

"We unequivocally reject the allegations that ExxonMobil has suppressed climate change research," Mr Cohen said, adding that the company had funded mainstream climate science since the 1970s, published dozens of scientific papers on the topic, and disclosed climate risks to investors.

People with knowledge of the New York case on Thursday said Peabody Energy, the nation's largest coal producer, had also been under investigation by the attorney-general for two years over whether it properly disclosed financial risks related to climate change.

Mr Vic Svec, a Peabody senior vice-president, in a statement, said: "Peabody continues to work with the New York Attorney-General's Office regarding our disclosures, which have evolved over the years."

The ExxonMobil investigation might expand further to include other oil companies, though no additional subpoenas have been issued, so far. The people spoke on condition they were not identified, saying they were not authorised to speak publicly.

Mr Schneiderman's decision to scrutinise the fossil fuel companies could open a sweeping new legal front in the battle over climate change. To date, lawsuits trying to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for the damage they are causing to the climate failed in the courts, but most of those have been pursued by private plaintiffs.

Attorneys-general in other states may join in Mr Schneiderman's efforts, bringing far greater investigative and legal resources to bear on the issue.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2015, with the headline 'Oil giant probed for 'telling lies' on climate change'. Print Edition | Subscribe