Judge dismisses Exxon’s ‘implausible’ attempt to stop climate investigations

Judge dismisses Exxon’s ‘implausible’ attempt to stop climate investigations
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A federal judge Thursday dismissed Exxon Mobil Corp.’s attempt to stop the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts from investigating its alleged fraud regarding what company officials knew about climate change and when.

The country’s largest oil company argued that probes by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) violated its free speech rights and were improperly motivated by political bias, among other claims.

Exxon wanted Judge Valerie Caproni in the District Court for the Southern District of New York to stop the attorneys general from issuing subpoenas or other demands for records or dispositions.

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But in a big loss for Exxon, Caproni, whom former President Obama nominated to the bench, said the company’s allegations were “implausible,” and dismissed its case.

“Whether viewed separately or in the aggregate, Exxon’s allegations fall well short of plausibly alleging that the [attorneys general] are motivated by an improper purpose,” she wrote Thursday.

Exxon’s submissions to the court, she said, “do not allege any direct evidence of an improper motive, and the circumstantial evidence put forth by Exxon fails to tie the AGs to any improper motive, if it exists, harbored by activists.”

The case took on a high profile as a centerpiece of the movement to hold Exxon accountable for the climate change its products caused.

Exxon now agrees with the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and caused primarily by burning fossil fuels. But investigations starting in 2015 alleged that the company for decades sowed public doubt about climate change science while its internal science showed the opposite.

Schneiderman and Healey hailed the ruling.

“I am pleased with the court's decision to dismiss Exxon's frivolous, nonsensical lawsuit that wrongfully attempted to thwart a serious state law enforcement investigation into the company,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

“At every turn in our investigation, Exxon has tried to distract and deflect from the facts at hand. But we will not be deterred: our securities fraud investigation into Exxon continues.”

Healey took the ruling as a vindication of her work against Exxon.

“Exxon has run a scorched earth campaign to avoid answering our basic questions about the company’s awareness of climate change. Today, a federal judge has thoroughly rejected the company’s obstructionist and meritless arguments to block our investigation,” she said.

“Massachusetts customers and investors deserve answers from Exxon about what it has known about the impact of burning fossil fuels on its business and the planet, and whether it hid this information from the public.”

Exxon spokesman Scott Silvestri said the company is evaluating the decision and considering its next steps.

‘We believe the risk of climate change is real and we want to be part of the solution,” he said.