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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 suit, first reported by the New York Times, is the culmination of a years-long investigation—colloquially known as the #ExxonKnew probe—into the energy giant's business practices and whether it lied to investors and the public about the risks of climate change.
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A federal judge on Thursday threw out Exxon Mobil's lawsuit that sought to derail New York and Massachusetts' probe into whether the oil giant misled investors and the public about its knowledge of climate change.
Exxon tried to convince U.S. District Court Judge Valerie A. Caproni that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey were infringing on the company's free speech rights and the AGs were pursuing politically motivated investigations.
By May Boeve
With Trump and fossil fuel executives in the White House, any shot of powerful and lasting protections for our climate and communities will come from our cities and states. That's why it's so troubling that in California, one of the most progressive places in the U.S., current state Attorney General Xavier Becerra is failing to stand up to ExxonMobil and its ilk.
Environmental organizations are calling foul on a carbon tax and dividend plan announced today that was supported by ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and other influential businesses, individuals and organizations.
The Climate Leadership Council, developed by former cabinet members James Baker and George Shultz, have crafted a plan designed to fight climate change by taxing carbon emissions and then redirecting that levy to taxpayers.
On Wednesday, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Heidi E. Brieger denied the oil giant a protective order that would have blocked Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey's subpoenas for Exxon's internal research on climate change.
"This affirms our authority to investigate fraud," Healey tweeted after the decision. "ExxonMobil must come clean about what it knew about climate change."
Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers told Reuters the company was "reviewing the decision to determine next steps."
In June, the company filed a lawsuit at a federal court in Texas to block Healey's investigation. However, a Texas judge later ruled that the court had no jurisdiction over an investigation in Massachusetts.
Exxon is cooperating with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's own subpoena and has already turned over thousands of pages of documents.
Healey and Schneiderman are among 20 state attorneys general who have launched an unprecedented investigation into whether "Exxon knew" about man-made climate change for several decades but disseminated false information to shareholders and the public in order to boost profits.
In April, DeSmog uncovered Exxon corporate documents from the late 1970s stating unequivocally "there is no doubt" that CO2 from the burning of of fossil fuels was a growing "problem" well understood within the company. Despite having this information, multiple reports have surfaced over the company's efforts to lobby the government against emissions regulations and funding of climate change denial.
The ruling is not just a huge win for Healy, it also raises significant questions over the country's next presumptive secretary of state. On the same day of the court's decision, former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson faced off with the U.S. Senate over his nomination as Donald Trump's top foreign affairs adviser.
At one point during the rocky all-day hearing, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia asked Tillerson, "Are these conclusions about ExxonMobil's history of promoting and funding climate science denial, despite its internal awareness of the reality of climate change during your tenure with the company, true or false?"
Tillerson, despite working for half of his 42 years at Exxon as an executive, said he could not answer the question since he no longer worked for the company.
Kaine, however, pressed on. "I'm not asking you on behalf of ExxonMobil. You have resigned from ExxonMobil. I'm asking you whether those allegations about ExxonMobil's knowledge of climate science and decision to fund and promote a view contrary to its awareness of its science, whether the allegations are true or false."
Tillerson again did not answer.
"Do you lack the knowledge to answer my question, or are you refusing to do so?" Kaine asked.
Tillerson finally responded, "A little of both."
Oil Change International campaigns director David Turnbull told EcoWatch that "the prospect of a sitting secretary of state becoming entangled in a lawsuit for his role in misleading the public about climate change is as real as it is alarming."
"Tillerson should stop the evasiveness and make all of the documents it provided to New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman public, so we have a full account of his role in Exxon's disinformation campaign," Turnbull added. "Anything short of that will leave questions looming that evidence suggests may only be later answered in court."
350.org co-founder Bill McKibben issued a similar statement.
"Rex Tillerson may be trying to make his getaway, but it's good to see that the courts may yet hold Exxon responsible for the damage it's done to this planet and to our democracy," McKibben said. "It was astonishing to watch Tillerson dodge and weave, almost as if he hadn't spent his entire career at ExxonMobil. Apparently, alongside the climate damage it causes, longterm exposure to Big Oil impairs your memory."
Despite an understanding of environmental risk and knowledge that international climate action would hurt their bottom line, Exxon aggressively pursued development of carbon-heavy Canadian tar sands for decades, a new investigation from InsideClimate News finds. The investigation is published on the heels of Friday's Canadian carbon tax announcement that could drive down tar sands pricing even further.
In another blow for Exxon, a judge ordered Monday that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey would not have to appear in Dallas for a deposition.
For a deeper dive:
Commentary: Huffington Post, David Halperin op-ed
By Deirdre Fulton
The Republican-led House Science Committee on Wednesday held an "unusual" hearing, alleged to have been "orchestrated on behalf of ExxonMobil" and criticized as an abuse of congressional power.
Environmentalists and elected officials alike decried the sideshow event, called by committee chair Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) in an attempt to justify subpoenas he recently issued to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and eight organizations and foundations regarding their investigations into whether Exxon deceived on the public and its investors on the issue of climate change. All of the entities that have been subpoenaed have refused to comply.
Members of Congress, including Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), spoke out in Washington, DC, on Wednesday against the House Science Committee's hearing. 350.org
Ahead of the hearing on Wednesday morning, climate action group 350.org noted that at least two of Smith's witnesses, law professors Ronald Rotunda and Elizabeth Price Foley, have significant ties to fossil fuel industry-funded groups such as the Heartland Institute and the Koch-funded Cato Institute.
What's more, 350.org and others pointed out, Smith himself has received hundreds of thousands in donations from the fossil fuel industry over the years—including $24,770 directly from ExxonMobil—"making oil and gas his most generous industry contributor throughout his career."
That's why it's "no surprise he's willing to trample our First Amendment rights in his mad dash to their defense," 350.org executive director May Boeve said Wednesday. "The bottom line is that this hearing is nothing but Smith's attempt to distract us from the real issue: Exxon knew the truth about climate change and Exxon lied."
"This hearing, orchestrated on behalf of ExxonMobil, is a perversion of this important congressional procedure and a complete distraction," added Tamar Lawrence-Samuel of the group Corporate Accountability International.
"The only thing this hearing will prove is that Rep. Smith is capable of cherry-picking a panel of witnesses that validate his views," Lawrence-Samuel said. "Mr. Smith and his denialist colleagues on the House Science Committee are once again using our government to carry out the head-in-sand agenda of their Big Oil campaign funders and it needs to stop. It's time for Rep. Smith to end this charade and let AGs do what they were elected to do."
Watch the hearing below (starting at minute 26:00):
People were tweeting about the hearing and its implications under the hashtag #ExxonKnew, which itself grew out of dual investigations that showed the oil giant spent decades and millions of dollars misleading the public about the threat posed by global warming.
"But instead of investigating ExxonMobil's decades-long deception on climate change, Republicans in charge of the House Science Committee are attacking attorneys general and nonprofits who are trying to protect the public by holding ExxonMobil accountable for their fraud and deceit," Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said on Wednesday. "The American people—who are facing the toll of climate change every single day—deserve leaders in Congress who believe in science. We deserve leaders who will protect the people, rather than ExxonMobil."
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.