Following allegations earlier this year that the oil giant ExxonMobil knew about climate change decades ago, and then purposely lied to and misled the public and investors, the company is now under investigation by the New York state attorney general, Eric Schneiderman. The company has received a subpoena, an order issued by the government to provide the courts with financial records, emails, and other documents that relate to climate change.
The allegations relate to the claims that scientists working for Exxon have long-known about the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels, but instead of acting the company funded climate denial organizations that spread confusion and doubt about climate science. It is claimed that through doing this, they delayed any action that might have been taken to mitigate climate change. The investigation is looking into whether while they were doing this, with company executives accused of being in full knowledge over the impact of the fossil fuel industry, they were also misleading their investors about climate risk.
Exxon obviously denies these claims, and argues that they kept their investors fully informed about the risks posed. In an emailed statement to the Guardian, Exxon spokesman Richard Keil said: “We unequivocally reject allegations that ExxonMobil suppressed climate change research contained in media reports that are inaccurate distortions of ExxonMobil’s nearly 40-year history of climate research that was conducted publicly in conjunction with the Department of Energy, academics, and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”
The investigations come following gathering pressure from environmental groups, as well as others seeking economic justice, and organizations supporting indigenous community rights. Even Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the two front-runners in the Democratic presidential nominee race, have both added their voices to call for the investigation. The alleged cover up by Exxon has been compared by many to the tobacco industry, which also attempted to cover up the impacts of smoking, before having to shell out tens of millions of dollars in penalties.
“This could open up years of litigation and settlements in the same way that tobacco litigation did, also spearheaded by attorneys general,” the University of Virginia’s Brandon L. Garrett said to the New York Times, who first reported the investigation into ExxonMobil. “In some ways, the theory is similar – that the public was misled about something dangerous to health. Whether the same smoking guns will emerge, we don’t know yet.”
Through leaked documents, it was first widely reported in around July that Exxon knew in 1981 that climate change could destroy the oil industry, but it was later found through an Inside Climate News investigation that the company actually knew about this even as far back as the 1970s. In addition, the nation's largest private coal company, Peabody Energy, is also being investigated by New York State, seeking to find out if they too purposely misled and spread doubt among the public and investors about climate change.