Energy & Environment

Top Massachusetts court rules against Exxon in climate case

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The highest court in Massachusetts ruled against Exxon Mobil in the company’s bid to block the state’s attorney general from obtaining records to investigate whether the oil and gas giant knew about the role fossil fuels played in climate change.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled Friday morning that the state attorney general had jurisdiction to investigate the climate-related offenses by Exxon, which included probing whether the company violated the state’s consumer protection law when it marketed or sold its products.

Previously Exxon had sued to stop the probe and lost, leading to an appeal. The court ruled Friday the original decision had been accurate.


“We conclude that there is personal jurisdiction over Exxon with respect to the Attorney General’s investigation, and that the judge did not abuse her discretion in denying Exxon’s requests to set aside the C.I.D., disqualify the Attorney General, and issue a stay. We affirm the judge’s order in its entirety,” the court wrote in its ruling.

The Massachusetts office began investigating Exxon following the publication of leaked documents in 2015 that contained internal communications that appeared to show the company knew of the significant role burning fossil fuels played in climate change. Fossil fuels are Exxon’s principal product. 

The internal correspondence also showed that the company did not alert the public of the public health risks, as mandated by the state, and “instead sought to undermine the evidence of climate change altogether, in order to preserve its value as a company,” the court wrote.

Maura Healey (D), the state’s top lawyer, first filed requests for Exxon documents related to the case in April 2016. Exxon soon after sued to stop the action.

Healey believed the suit was filed to “forum shop” for a more favorable court venue for Exxon. 

In a call with reporters Friday Healey called the court decision “very affirming” but said Exxon has yet to provide a “single document” to her office.

“For the second time this month, Exxon’s scorched earth campaign to block our investigation has been entirely rejected by the courts. In its decision today, our state’s highest court affirmed that Exxon is subject to our laws, and that our office has the authority to investigate,” Healey said in a statement. “Now Exxon must come forward with the truth, what it knew about climate change, when, and what it told the world. The people of Massachusetts – and people everywhere – deserve answers.”


Tags Climate change Massachusetts

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