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'Victory': Supreme Court Rejects Exxon's Appeal, Time to Fork Over Climate Docs

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Activists representing more than 350 environmental, civic, and college student organizations in Downtown Manhattan in February 2017.


Pacific Press / Contributor / LightRocket / Getty Images

Massachusetts' Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey declared "victory" on Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected ExxonMobil's attempt to derail her office's probe into whether the fossil fuel giant misled investors and the public about its knowledge of climate change.

The justices declined to hear Exxon's appeal of an April ruling by Massachusetts' highest court, Reuters reported.


The decision effectively affirmed Healy's authority to investigate Exxon and to order the company to hand over decades of internal records related to the company's understanding of global warming.

This victory "clears the way for our office to investigate Exxon's conduct toward consumers and investors," Healey tweeted after the ruling.

"The public deserves answers from this company about what it knew about the impacts of burning fossil fuels, and when," she added.

Healey first issued a civil investigative demand on Exxon in April 2016 in order to seek "information regarding whether Exxon may have misled consumers and/or investors with respect to the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, and climate change-driven risks to Exxon's business."

The oil company repeatedly tried to block the AG's investigation in lower courts but never prevailed. Today's rejection from the nation's top court likely means that Exxon must comply with Healy's demands.

Environmentalists, including 350.org U.S. communications manager Thanu Yakupitiyage, celebrated the news.

"This latest decision brings great momentum in the fight to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for causing the climate crisis," Yakupitiyage said in an issued statement. "We thank Attorney General Healey for her vigilant leadership in standing up for people over polluters."

In October, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood officially filed a lawsuit against Exxon alleging the company defrauded shareholders and downplayed the risk of climate change to its business.

Underwood's office said in a press release that a years-long investigation uncovered an alleged fraudulent scheme to systematically and repeatedly deceive investors about the significant impact that future climate change regulations could have on the company's assets and value. The alleged fraud reached the highest levels of the company, including former chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson.

The probes from the Massachusetts and New York attorneys general were launched after groundbreaking investigations by InsideClimate News and The Los Angeles Times in 2015, which reported that Exxon scientists and executives understood for decades that its products drive global warming.

"Today's decision is yet another defeat for Exxon in their fight to hide the fact that they have known for 50 years that their products cause climate change," Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity, said in an issued statement. "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."

Exxon has dismissed these allegations as "meritless," Reuters reported.

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Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.

AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.

"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."


The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.

"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.

As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."

"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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