Judge denies Exxon Mobil bid to halt Massachusetts climate case

Judge denies Exxon Mobil bid to halt Massachusetts climate case

A Massachusetts judge on Wednesday denied a bid by Exxon Mobil to halt state litigation against the energy giant.

In two rulings, Superior Court Judge Karen Green declined to dismiss Attorney General Maura Healey’s (D) lawsuit against Exxon Mobil, which accuses the company of misrepresenting the risks and impacts of climate change to investors and customers in the Bay State.

The lawsuit accuses the energy company of knowing the risks of climate change decades ago and concealing them from consumers and investors in the form of “greenwashing,” or misrepresenting how good its products are for the environment.

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In a special motion to dismiss in 2020, Exxon Mobil argued Healey’s lawsuit targeted claims by the company that were protected speech. Green disagreed, writing, “Climate change indisputably is a topic that has attracted government attention. It is apparent from the context in which they were made that many Exxon statements referenced in the complaint are not protected.”

Green made a similar determination in her ruling on the second motion, rejecting an argument that Healey’s office was illegally seeking to compel speech from the company.

“Commercial speech is protected by the First Amendment if it concerns lawful activity and is not misleading,” she wrote. “Here, the Commonwealth alleges that Exxon made misleading statements to consumers and investors in violation of [the state consumer protection law]. The court is not in a position, at least at this stage, to determine whether any particular statement is protected by the First Amendment.”

“Today’s rulings represent a significant step forward for my office’s work to hold Exxon accountable for lying to Massachusetts consumers about the climate harms of using its fossil fuel products and to Massachusetts investors about the negative impact of climate change on the value of its business,” Healey said in a statement. “To this day, Exxon is continuing to promote its fossil fuel products to consumers as good for the environment and misleading investors that demand for fossil fuels will remain strong for the foreseeable future.”

An Exxon Mobil spokesperson told The Hill, "The case lacks merit, and we look forward to defending the company. We are reviewing the court’s opinion and considering next steps."