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ExxonMobil just got slapped with yet another landmark lawsuit, this time from Massachusetts. The state is suing the oil giant for tell its investors and the public that burning gas is good for the environment.
The state filed suit against the oil giant on Thursday — while the company was also on trial in New York. Both lawsuits accuse Exxon of defrauding its investors by cooking its books to downplay risks to its business and rely on the fact that the company, as early as the 1970s, knew about the risks that burning fossil fuels posed to the environment. The burning of fossil fuels for transportation is the largest source of climate-heating greenhouse gas emissions for the United States.
“ExxonMobil has misrepresented and continues to misrepresent the supposed climate and environmental benefits of its fossil fuel products,” the complaint reads.
Either of the cases, if successful, could cost Exxon a lot of cash. Massachusetts is seeking $5,000 for each violation of the state’s consumer protection laws. That could mean that each sale of stock, or gasoline, could constitute a violation. New York wants the company to cough up any profits it got fraudulently — which could also be a lot money.
“They’re really looking at potentially billions of dollars in damages, depending on how you measure the damage to investors for misleading the public,” Ann Carlson, co-director of the Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment at the University of California, Los Angeles law school, told VICE News of the New York case. “It could seriously affect their bottom line.”
Exxon, for its part, dismissed the lawsuit as baseless, and accused Healy of waging a “partisan” campaign against the company.
The Massachusetts lawsuit, like the one currently on trial in New York, accused the company of misrepresenting its assessment of the risk that future climate change regulation could pose to its investors. But the Massachusetts suit goes further than New York’s case: It also accuses the company of broadly misrepresenting the risks of the fossil fuels Exxon sold to the public.
“Our goal here is simple: to stop Exxon from engaging in this deception and penalize it for this conduct,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said at a press conference.
Healy alleges that the company conducted a widespread “greenwashing” campaign to make it appear that Exxon appear environmentally friendly while the burning of its products, fossil fuels, is the primary cause of climate change. Exxon has tried to brand itself as a leader in clean energy research, though it only spends half a percent of its revenue on clean energy research.
Three coastal counties in California are also suing the oil giant, along with 36 other oil companies, to try to get them to pay for the infrastructural upgrades the communities need to adapt to climate change.
In 1982, the company produced research that indicated that, by 2019, the atmosphere would have a carbon dioxide concentration of 415 parts per million, and the world would have heated by 1 degree Celsius. That’s exactly what happened.
“We were excellent scientists,” former Exxon researcher, Martin Hoffert, told lawmakers Wednesday during a hearing about the company’s downplaying its own climate research.
Cover image: In this June 26, 2019, file photo a Mobil gas pump displays the various types of fuel and their prices at this Flowood, Miss., station. Exxon Mobil Corp. reports financial results Friday, Aug. 2. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)