Exxon moves to block climate probes in New York, Massachusetts

Exxon moves to block climate probes in New York, Massachusetts
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ExxonMobil Corp. is asking a federal court to stop the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts from carrying out climate change-related investigations of the company.

The nation’s largest oil and natural gas company filed a motion on Monday challenging a subpoena issued last year by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) that Exxon said shows impermissible bias against the company.

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The motion in a Texas federal court seeks to add Schneiderman to an existing lawsuit in that court in which Exxon is trying to block Democratic Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s demand for certain documents.

Exxon told the court that Schneiderman and Healey are part of a “conspiracy” against the company, fueled by “improper bias and unconstitutional objectives.”

“Attorney General Schneiderman has publicly accused ExxonMobil of engaging in a ‘massive securities fraud’ without any basis whatsoever, and Attorney General Healey declared, before her investigation even began, that she knew how it would end: with a finding that ExxonMobil violated the law,” Exxon wrote.

If the court granted Exxon’s motion, it would be a major hit to the multipronged campaign by some Democrats and environmentalists to punish Exxon for its history with climate change.

Two reports last year said Exxon knew as early as the 1970s that greenhouse gases, caused mainly by fossil fuels, were responsible in large part for global warming. But until the last decade or so, they added, Exxon publicly tried to sow doubt about climate change in an effort to head off possible policies that could hurt its business.

Schneiderman and Healey want to see if that amounts to fraud, as environmentalists allege.

But recently, Schneiderman said his probe would focus more on how Exxon calculates the value of its oil and gas reserves and how it accounts for future climate policies.

To Exxon, that kind of shift proves that the attorneys general don’t have a legitimate reason for their investigations.

“Their true objective is clear: to fish indiscriminately through ExxonMobil’s records with the hope of finding some violation of some law that one of them might be empowered to enforce, or otherwise to harass ExxonMobil into endorsing the Green 20’s policy views regarding how the United States should respond to climate change,” the company wrote.

The motion quotes extensively from a March press conference with numerous Democratic attorneys general during which Schneiderman revealed some details of his investigation and Healey announced the launch of her investigation.

It also cites documents obtained through open record laws by conservative groups, showing that Schneiderman, Healey and others met with environmental activists right before that event.

Representatives of Schneiderman and Healey slammed Exxon’s court filing as a stonewalling tactic.

Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Schneiderman, called the claim “meritless.”

“As we’ve seen for months, Exxon will do everything in its power to distract, delay, and avoid any investigation into its actions, which may have violated state securities and consumer fraud laws,” she said.

In New York state court, Schneiderman filed a motion Friday to compel Exxon’s accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to hand over documents he’s requested. Spitalnick accused Exxon of filing the Monday motion as “forum-shopping,” to avoid the New York court.

Chloe Gotsis, a spokeswoman for Healey, called the Exxon motion “yet another attempt by Exxon Mobil to impede state investigations into whether the company deceived consumers and investors about the impact of fossil fuels on the environment and Exxon’s business.”

Gotsis said Exxon is subject to Massachusetts’ laws, and can be held responsible under them.

Healey has been arguing that the Texas court is not the proper venue to challenge her actions.

But the court said last week that Healey may have been acting in “bad faith” and granted Exxon’s request to conduct discovery and obtain documents from Healey’s investigation.

This story was updated at 2:51 p.m.