ExxonMobil Climate Change Lawsuit to Proceed
BOSTON — ExxonMobil will have to defend its business practices in Massachusetts after a lawsuit concerning the oil and gas giant’s role in propagating climate change was allowed to proceed on Tuesday.
The Massachusetts Supreme Court dismissed Exxon’s special motion to dismiss a state lawsuit alleging that the company misled investors about the risks posed by fossil fuel-driven climate change to its business model. Attorney General Maura Healey sued Exxon in 2019 for falsely advertising itself and its products as environmentally responsible despite the company’s history of deception.
Exxon moved for the dismissal of Healey’s lawsuit under the state’s Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation statute. The so-called anti-SLAPP law allows defendants to dismiss litigation if it improperly targets protected petitioning activities. The state Supreme Court unanimously rejected Exxon’s motion on a 7–0 vote, stating that Healey’s lawsuit wasn’t applicable to the statute.
“Construing the anti-SLAPP statute to apply to the attorney general would place significant roadblocks to the enforcement of the Commonwealth’s laws,” Justice Scott Kafker wrote in the court’s opinion.
ExxonMobil Corporate Media Relations Manager Casey Norton told The Well News the company was “reviewing the [court’s] decision and evaluating next steps.”
The decision is immediately appealable, according to the court’s opinion.
The lawsuit was filed after Healey launched a civil investigation in 2016 under the suspicion that the company violated the Massachusetts consumer protection statute. Healey’s office amended the complaint in June 2020 with new allegations claiming the COVID-19 pandemic made Exxon’s business model even more vulnerable to market fluctuations which were subsequently downplayed to investors and consumers.
Exxon’s knowledge of climate change dates back to June 1978, when a senior scientist with the company informed executives the general scientific consensus at that time was that global climate change was being caused by humans through the burning of fossil fuels, according to company documents.
Despite this revelation, Healey’s lawsuit alleges Exxon undertook a “sophisticated, multi-million dollar campaign” to stoke doubt over whether climate change was occurring and what role fossil fuels played in causing it.
For instance, Exxon significantly influenced the United States’ decision not to adopt the Kyoto Protocol in 1992. The protocol was an international treaty that was built upon the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which committed the adopting countries to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
Exxon funded a series of economic models that sought to sway public opinion against mandatory climate policy under the threat of job losses and dire outcomes for the U.S. economy, according to a 2002 study conducted by international researchers.
Additionally, Exxon helped form the Global Climate Coalition in 1989 shortly after the founding of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
GCC’s mission statement refuted the scientific consensus around greenhouse gas emissions, and in 1997, it conducted lobbying efforts to prevent significant climate policy outcomes from international negotiations.
According to Federal Election Commission filings, Exxon has contributed $26,456,997 to political campaigns since 1990 and spent $293,412,742 on lobbying since 1998.
In 2007, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a report detailing Exxon’s mirroring of tobacco industry tactics to illicit favorable political outcomes. The organization’s report posits evidence showing Exxon funding a “network of ideological and advocacy organizations” that worked to generate uncertainty on the issue of human-caused climate change.
“Exxon’s repeated attempts to stonewall our lawsuit have been baseless, and this effort was no different,” Healey’s office told The Well News. “We look forward to proceeding with our case and having our day in court to show how Exxon is breaking the law and to put an end to the deception once and for all.”