Kerry: Exxon could lose 'billions' in climate change lawsuit

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If it’s proven that Exxon Mobil Corp. misled investors and the public on the science of climate change, Secretary of State John KerryJohn Kerry5 reasons Trump's final debate performance sealed his 2016 coffin US pledges to do all it can to fight 'grave threat' of nuclear North Korea Armani, Batali among guests at White House state dinner MORE said he would be “outraged, furious” and predicted the company could be hit with a record lawsuit. 

“I think that Exxon Mobil stands potentially to lose billions of dollars in what I would imagine would be one of the largest class-action lawsuits in history,” Kerry told Rolling Stone in a wide-ranging interview on foreign policy and climate change. 

Asked if he would support such a lawsuit, Kerry said, “I would support the investigation into what happened, and, based on the facts, I'd pursue the facts. You pursue the truth in this kind of a situation.”

Reports by InsideClimate News and a team of Columbia University journalists in the Los Angeles Times have accused the oil giant of quietly studying the negative impacts of carbon dioxide on the atmosphere while publicly questioning the science of climate change. 

Exxon has denied the claims. In a letter to Columbia officials earlier this month, the company accused the journalists of engaging in unethical practices and ignoring evidence from the company.

The reports have led environmental groups and the three major Democratic presidential candidates to push the Department of Justice to investigate. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has also launched a probe. 

Kerry said that, if true, Exxon’s actions would be on par with those of cigarette companies that ignored the cancer-causing nature of their products. 

“It's the same thing,” he said. “It's immoral and incredibly damaging to everybody's global interests. It's a betrayal.”

In the Rolling Stone interview, Kerry also discussed the Obama administration's focus on climate change and how he defines success at the  Paris climate talks that began Monday.

“The reality is when you get 150-plus countries signing on to hit targets, they all have to do something,” he said of the carbon reduction targets that make up the bulk of the negotiations.

“I mean, they're not going to do nothing, believe me. And 20 of them will make a major impact — the major emitter group — and that's what it takes to get the job done.”

He defended the State Department's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline project as one based on “the merits, period” and not outside political pressure.

And while he promoted the work the Obama administration has done on climate change, Kerry cast doubt on whether the U.S. will ever implement a tax on carbon emissions. 

“There are ways of doing it that could be accepted by people, and I think corporations themselves will help step up and make it happen,” he said. “But for the moment, it's outside my diplomatic bailiwick.”