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March 29 — State attorneys general looking into allegations that fossil fuel companies misled the public and investors about climate change may be joining forces.
The attorneys general of New York and California have already launched climate-related inquiries into Exxon Mobil Corp. Their counterpart in Massachusetts has now indicated she is doing the same.
“Fossil fuel companies that deceived investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change should be, must be held accountable,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said March 29 at a briefing in New York City. “That's why I too have joined in investigating the practices of Exxon Mobil.”
The Virgin Islands' attorney general said he is also looking into a major corporation, without identifying it by name.
“We've gathered here today for a conference, a first-of-its-kind conference of attorneys general, dedicated to coming up with creative ways to enforce laws being flouted by the fossil fuel industry and their allies in their short-sighted efforts to put profits above the interests of the American people and the integrity of our financial markets,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.
It was revealed last year that Schneiderman had issued a subpoena to Exxon Mobil amid media reports suggesting the company tried to downplay research from in-house scientists confirming the link between fossil fuels and climate change and the risks that it could pose.
The oil and gas giant, based in Irving, Texas, has maintained that the allegations distort its nearly 40-year history of climate research.
“The allegations leveled against ExxonMobil again today are politically motivated and based on discredited reporting funded by activist organizations,” Suzanne McCarron, the company's vice president for public and government affairs, said in a statement March 29. “We are actively assessing all legal options.”
Noticeably, not all of the attorneys general present at the meeting threw their weight behind the Exxon Mobil investigation.
Industry groups saw it as a sign those states didn't want to waste their resources, while environmentalists think it's only a matter of time before more states follow suit.
Maryland's Attorney General Brian Frosh hinted at the idea, though he has not explicitly acknowledged an investigation by his office. The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission also have been asked to launch a federal inquiry into both Exxon Mobil and Shell.
Former Vice President Al Gore, who joined the attorneys general in New York, said their convening may later be looked back on as a “turning point” in the effort to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their communications on the dangers of climate change, much like the way tobacco companies were for the health hazards of smoking.
“From the time the tobacco companies were first found out…it took 40 years for them to be held to account under the law,” Gore said. “We do not have 40 years to continue suffering the consequences of the fraud allegedly being committed by the fossil fuel companies where climate change is concerned.”
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