Quantcast

ExxonMobil Accused of Pressuring Witnesses in Climate Fraud Case

Climate
More than 200 people demonstrated in January 2017 against the appointment of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state. Eman Mohammed / 350.org

By Jessica Corbett

New York state prosecutors last week accused ExxonMobil of trying to discourage witnesses from testifying against the company in a climate fraud case, leading the head of the environmental group 350.org to declare Thursday that "we won't be intimidated."


In a statement, May Boeve, the avocacy group's executive director, also charged that "Exxon is polluting these proceedings just like it has polluted our communities."

Last October, following a three-year probe and amid growing demands that the dirty energy industry be held accountable for the impacts of its products, then-New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood sued ExxonMobil for defrauding investors about the financial threat of efforts to combat the climate emergency.

Boeve's statement came in response to allegations from the current state attorney general's office Friday that the fossil fuel giant is attempting to intimidate third-party witnesses by demanding they disclose all contact they have had with various experts and environmental groups, including 350.org.

InsideClimate News — which exposed ExxonMobil's decades of climate deception with a damning investigative series in 2015 — reported on the allegations Tuesday:

New court filings reveal that Exxon sent letters to a group of investment advisers and shareholder activists who prosecutors want to put on the stand, informing them they will be subject to subpoenas from the company seeking documents relevant to the case if they choose to testify.
Because of their roles investing in and engaging with Exxon over climate change, these witnesses' testimony could prove critical to the state's case.
With opening statements scheduled to begin Oct. 23, a lawyer in New York Attorney General Letitia James's office wrote that the request would "impose disproportionate burdens on these witnesses in a transparent attempt to discourage them from testifying voluntarily, and threatening to upend the trial schedule."
The attorney general's office has asked Justice Barry Ostrager of New York Supreme Court to order Exxon to halt its requests for documents.

Aaron Caplan, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and expert in legal ethics, told the outlet that Exxon's letter "tiptoes right up to the line of impropriety ... And whether it crosses that line is up to interpretation."

Climate Liability News, which also reported on the filings from James's office Tuesday, spoke to one expert who characterized Exxon's move as part of a broader legal strategy.

Yale law professor Douglas A. Kysar, who is not involved in the suit, said the document request feeds into Exxon's narrative of an "anti-carbon conspiracy" involving liberal academics, foundations, non-governmental organizations, and plaintiffs' lawyers. The request includes "all communications concerning ExxonMobil between you and Matthew Pawa, Peter Frumhoff, Naomi Oreskes, Geoffrey Supran, the Rockefeller Family Foundation, Sharon Eubanks, Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, Richard Heede, Sher Edling, LLP, 350.org, or the Union of Concerned Scientists."
"The third party witnesses won't necessarily take this request literally as a threat by Exxon — but they will have to consider the vast expense and inconvenience that would follow from being dragged into the 'anti-carbon conspiracy' narrative," Kysar said.

"The line between 'normal legal maneuvering' and 'intimidation-style tactics' is a fine one that is almost always pushed by litigants in high-stakes battles like this one," added Kysar. "Still, the timing and the breadth of the document request by Exxon's lawyers raises even my cynical eyebrows."

350.org's Boeve wrote in an email to supporters Thursday that it is "clear" that "ExxonMobil executives are scared of the power of our movement and the strength of our numbers."

"This could be the greatest case of corporate fraud in history," she noted. "This lawsuit is a huge opportunity to set a precedent around the world for holding fossil fuel executives accountable and making them pay for a just transition to a 100 percent renewable energy economy."

In her statement, Boeve thanked James "for her vigilance in standing up for our communities" and vowed that Exxon's legal maneuvers won't deter the movement to make polluters pay for fueling the global climate emergency.

"As communities bear the costs of Exxon's lies, millions of people led by youth, frontline communities, workers, and more are mobilizing towards the September 20 climate strikes to build a world that works for all of us," said Boeve. "Together, all of us will hold accountable fossil fuel executives most responsible for the climate crisis, and make them pay for their climate destruction."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pro-environment demonstrators on the streets of Washington, DC during the Jan. 20, 2017 Trump inauguration. Mobilus In Mobili / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Dr. Brian R. Shmaefsky

One year after the Flint Water Crisis I was invited to participate in a water rights session at a conference hosted by the US Human Rights Network in Austin, Texas in 2015. The reason I was at the conference was to promote efforts by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to encourage scientists to shine a light on how science intersects with human rights, in the U.S. as well as in the context of international development. My plan was to sit at an information booth and share my stories about water quality projects I spearheaded in communities in Bangladesh, Colombia, and the Philippines. I did not expect to be thrown into conversations that made me reexamine how scientists use their knowledge as a public good.

Read More
Mt. Rainier and Reflection Lake on Sept. 10, 2015. Crystal Geyser planned to open a bottling plant near Mt. Rainier, emails show. louelke - on and off / Flickr

Bottled water manufacturers looking to capture cool, mountain water from Washington's Cascade Mountains may have to look elsewhere after the state senate passed a bill banning new water permits, as The Guardian reported.

Read More
Sponsored
Large storage tank of Ammonia at a fertilizer plant in Cubatão, Sao Paulo State, Brazil. Luis Veiga / The Image Bank / Getty Images

The shipping industry is coming to grips with its egregious carbon footprint, as it has an outsized contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and to the dumping of chemicals into open seas. Already, the global shipping industry contributes about 2 percent of global carbon emissions, about the same as Germany, as the BBC reported.

Read More
At high tide, people are forced off parts of the pathway surrounding DC's Tidal Basin. Andrew Bossi / Wikimedia

By Sarah Kennedy

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC overlooks the Tidal Basin, a man-made body of water surrounded by cherry trees. Visitors can stroll along the water's edge, gazing up at the stately monument.

But at high tide, people are forced off parts of the path. Twice a day, the Tidal Basin floods and water spills onto the walkway.

Read More
Lioness displays teeth during light rainstorm in Kruger National Park, South Africa. johan63 / iStock / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Ahead of government negotiations scheduled for next week on a global plan to address the biodiversity crisis, 23 former foreign ministers from various countries released a statement on Tuesday urging world leaders to act "boldly" to protect nature.

Read More