Massachusetts joins in investigating Exxon on climate

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Massachusetts is joining the multi-state effort to investigate whether Exxon Mobil Corp. lied to the public and investors about what it knew about climate change.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced the probe Tuesday in New York City at a meeting with 20 other Democratic attorneys general or their staff, who together agreed to cooperate on climate change related matters.

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New York and California have also launched Exxon investigations in recent months, based in part on reports last year in the Los Angeles Times and InsideClimate News that alleged that the company knew as early as the 1970s about the harm to the climate from fossil fuels, yet were publicly skeptical about the science.

“Fossil fuel companies that deceived investors must be held accountable,” Healey said in announcing the Exxon probe at a news conference.

She didn’t provide many details about the probe, except to say that it involves “quick, aggressive action” and that she plans to hold accountable “those who have needed to be held accountable for far too long.”

Claude Walker, attorney general of the United States Virgin Islands, hinted that he, too, is investigating Exxon, but did not say it outright.

“We have launched an investigation into a company that we believe must provide information to us about what they knew about climate change and when they knew it,” he said.

Each jurisdiction investigating Exxon is under different state laws and could come to different conclusions by applying those laws.

Other states could also be investigating the company without publicly revealing it.

Exxon has repeatedly and forcefully rejected accusations that it broke the law in its previously climate work. In recent years, it has distanced itself from climate skepticism and funded research that aligns with the scientific consensus that climate change is real and primarily caused by human activity.

“Media and environmental activists have used publicly available materials from the company’s archives to deliberately distort ExxonMobil’s nearly 40-year history of climate research, which was conducted publicly in conjunction with the Department of Energy, academics and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” Alan Jeffers, an Exxon spokesman, said recently.

“To suggest that we had reached definitive conclusions, decades before the world’s experts and while climate science was in an early stage of development, is not credible.”

Environmentalists and others who have been urging more action against Exxon applauded Healey’s investigation.

“This creates a huge sense of momentum,” May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said in a statement.

“Exxon may have been able to brush aside a few isolated inquiries, but with more states jumping on board, these investigations are sure to generate some serious waves. The Exxon revelations may turn out to be the largest corporate scandal in history,” she said.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman hosted Tuesday’s meeting to announce that the 20 attorneys general have agreed to cooperate on various issues surrounding climate change. But they had almost no new announcements about their coalition.

“We gathered here today for a conference, the 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 hold profits above the interests of the American people and the integrity of our financial markets,” he told reporters.

“Today, in the face of gridlock in Washington, we are assembling a group of state actors to send the message that we’re prepared to step into this,” he said. “One thing that all of these people can agree on is that every fossil fuel company has a responsibility to be honest with its investors and with the public about the financial and market risks imposed by climate change.”