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New York AG sues Exxon Mobil, says company downplayed climate change risks

New York AG sues Exxon Mobil, says company downplayed climate change risks
© Greg Nash

New York's attorney general filed a lawsuit Wednesday accusing Exxon Mobil Corp. of fraudulently downplaying the risks of climate change to its shareholders.

The attorney general's office argued in its suit that Exxon Mobil failed to accurately depict the likely financial risks associated with climate change, thereby deceiving investors.

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“Investors put their money and their trust in Exxon — which assured them of the long-term value of their shares, as the company claimed to be factoring the risk of increasing climate change regulation into its business decisions," New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood (D) said in a statement. "Yet as our investigation found, Exxon often did no such thing.”

She added that Exxon Mobil instead “built a facade to deceive investors into believing that the company was managing the risks of climate change regulation to its business when, in fact, it was intentionally and systematically underestimating or ignoring them, contrary to its public representations.”

The suit follows three years of investigation by the New York attorney general's office that looked into whether the company lied to investors and the public over the risks of climate change. It did not address how Exxon might have played a role in exacerbating the effects of climate change, but leaves the door open to additional lawsuits.

Underwood additionally alleged that her office's investigation found that the fraud reached up to Exxon Mobil's highest levels and that the misrepresentation was known by former Chairman and CEO Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonWhite House ousts Sessions Trump downplays potential turnover: 'Everybody wants to work in this White House' Trump says Cabinet changes likely after midterms MORE — who left the company to become President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeath toll in Northern California wildfire rises to 48: authorities Graham backs bill to protect Mueller Denham loses GOP seat in California MORE’s first secretary of State. He left that post in March.

An Exxon spokesman told The Hill that there "is no evidence to support these allegations."

"These baseless allegations are a product of closed-door lobbying by special interests, political opportunism and the attorney general’s inability to admit that a three-year investigation has uncovered no wrongdoing," the spokesman said. "The company looks forward to refuting these claims as soon as possible and getting this meritless civil lawsuit dismissed."

Environmental groups reacted positively to news of the lawsuit.

Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity, called climate change deception “central to Exxon’s business model.”

“This is the same company that bankrolled a 30-year, multimillion denial campaign, manufacturing doubt about climate science when it knew there was none,” Wiles said. “The New York Attorney General’s office deserves credit for defending the state's investors against Exxon's latest deception.”

An investigation by InsideClimate News published in 2015 said Exxon was aware since at least 1977 of the risks posed by climate change driven, at large, by burning fossil fuels, but sought to downplay the effects despite warnings from the company’s in-house scientists.

Bill McKibben, cofounder of 350.org, said the suit was necessary to stand up to "Exxon’s lies."

“Big oil may finally face some consequences for its role in wrecking the climate,” he said. “The New York Attorney General is standing up for investors who may have been swindled, and indirectly for the 7 billion of us who will suffer from Exxon's lies.”

Updated at 2:53 p.m.