Exxon hit with first civil suit over climate science

Exxon hit with first civil suit over climate science
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An environmental group has sued oil giant ExxonMobil Corp., alleging the company is improperly polluting a Massachusetts river and putting it at further risk by not preparing for climate change. 

The lawsuit, from the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), says an Exxon terminal outside Boston is leaking pollution into the Mystic River beyond what is allowed under the facility's permits. 

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The suit goes one step further, alleging that Exxon did not properly prepare the facility for the impacts of climate change. It warns that storms brought on by extreme weather could damage the facility and put waterways and communities there at greater environmental risk. 

That allegation comes amid intense scrutiny of Exxon’s work studying climate change. News reports last year concluded the company knew about the impacts of burning fossil fuels on climate change decades ago but obscured the research from the public. Exxon has denied that allegation.

A handful of Democratic attorneys general have launched investigations into the company’s climate science, including Massachusetts’s Maura Healey. 

The CLF’s lawsuit is the first civil suit brought against Exxon over the company’s climate science. In a statement, the group’s president, Bradley Campbell, said Exxon has “devoted its resources to deceiving the public about climate science while using its knowledge about climate change to advance its business operations.” 

“It’s time to make Exxon answer for decades of false statements to the public and to regulators and ensure that its Everett facility meets its legal obligation to protect thousands of people and the Boston Harbor estuary from toxic water pollution.”

In a statement, Exxon said it would it would "fight this in court,” and called the suit “yet another attempt to use the courts to promote a political agenda."

The company is disputed attacks on its climate science, as well, saying it worked on research with the Department of Energy, the United Nations and others. 

“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,” the statement said.

The company told WBUR in May, when CLF previewed its lawsuit, that the facility in question passed recent pollution prevention inspections from federal and state agencies. 

—This post was updated at 1:51 p.m.