Energy & Environment

New Jersey sues five oil companies, trade group for allegedly concealing role in climate change

OIl rig
AP/Hasan Jamali
In this Jan. 18, 2016 file photo, an oil pump works at sunset, in the desert oil fields of Sakhir, Bahrain. The global energy transition is perhaps nowhere more perplexing than in the Arabian Peninsula. The political stability of the six Gulf states — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman — is rooted in profits from fossil fuels. They are privately and publicly advocating for carbon capture technologies rather than a rapid phasing out of burning fossil fuels. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin (D) on Tuesday announced a lawsuit against five fossil fuel companies and the American Petroleum Institute (API), alleging they misled the public on their products’ role in climate change.

In the lawsuit, Platkin and the state Department of Environmental Protection and Division of Consumer Affairs alleged Chevron, Exxon Mobil, BP, ConocoPhillips, Shell and API “systematically” concealed and denied knowledge of fossil fuels’ role in climate change. The lawsuit further accuses the defendants of mounting public relations campaigns to cast doubt on the facts of climate change despite their knowledge of the industry’s contributions to it.

The lawsuit cites documented instances of implied knowledge of climate change by the defendants dating back decades, such as investments in raised oil platforms to account for sea-level rise and a 1973 Exxon patent for a cargo ship that could break through sea ice. Even further back, the plaintiffs allege, the company that would eventually become ConocoPhillips obtained a patent in 1966 for an early form of carbon sequestration technology.

Emissions from greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, are the predominant driver of climate change.

The plaintiffs further accuse the defendants of ongoing greenwashing, or misrepresenting the environmental benefits of their products and services, despite an analysis indicating that between 2010 and 2018, none of the companies spent more than 2.3 percent of total capital on low-carbon energy.

“Based on their own research, these companies understood decades ago that their products were causing climate change and would have devastating environmental impacts down the road,” Platkin said in a statement. “They went to great lengths to hide the truth and mislead the people of New Jersey, and the world. In short, these companies put their profits ahead of our safety. It’s long overdue that the facts be aired in a New Jersey court, and the perpetrators of the disinformation campaign pay for the harms they’ve caused.”

Reached for comment, an API spokesperson told The Hill, “The record of the past two decades demonstrates that the industry has achieved its goal of providing affordable, reliable American energy to U.S. consumers while substantially reducing emissions and our environmental footprint. Any suggestion to the contrary is false.”

Chevron counsel Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., of Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher said in a statement to The Hill called the complaint “a special-interest lawsuit asking the Superior Court of New Jersey to punish a select group of energy companies for a problem that is the result of worldwide conduct stretching back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.”

“These suits serve only to divert attention and resources away from the collaborative, international efforts that are critical to developing a meaningful solution to climate change,” the spokesperson added.

An Exxon Mobil spokesperson, meanwhile, told The Hill, “Legal proceedings like this waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change. Exxon Mobil will continue to invest in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while meeting society’s growing demand for energy.”

A ConocoPhillips spokesperson told The Hill the company does not comment on ongoing litigation. The Hill has also reached out to BP and Shell for comment.

Tags American Petroleum Institute BP Chevron Climate change ConocoPhillips ExxonMobil Matthew Platkin Shell

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