Fossil fuel companies just can’t get away with dodgy dealings when it comes to climate change. Recently, a group of attorneys general representing 17 states, Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands said they plan to work together on climate change. That includes investigating whether oil and gas companies misled the public and investors about the impacts of climate change on their businesses.
Four of the state attorneys (New York, California, Massachusetts, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) are specifically investigating ExxonMobil. Two of the states involved in the lawsuits, New York and California, launched investigations the end of last year to see if ExxonMobil failed to report climate change risks to shareholders and lied to the public about climate change.
“Our offices are seriously examining the potential of working together on high-impact, state-level initiatives, such as investigations into whether fossil fuel companies have misled investors about how climate change impacts their investments and business decisions,” New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.
“Climate change has real and lasting impacts on our environment, public health and the economy,” added Attorney General Kamala D. Harris in a statement. “California has been a national leader in fighting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and I am proud to join this effort to preserve and protect our natural resources for future generations to come.”
Jamie Henn, 350.org strategy and communications director and co-founder, told TriplePundit that the announcement are “nothing short of historic.” The joint work by the state attorneys is “the beginning of the type of multi-state collaboration that brought down Big Tobacco,” Henn told 3p. And if the investigations move forward, “They will have a major impact on the fossil fuel industry and help open up the space for much bolder political action to address the climate crisis,” she added.
ExxonMobil has long known about the risks climate change poses to its business operations. Reports by media outlets, including Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, revealed that ExxonMobil incorporated climate change into its plans and practices in the 1980s and 1990s. At the same time, the company publicly cast doubt on climate science.
ExxonMobil “knew about the threat of climate change and then, just like Big Tobacco, proceeded to fund a massive misinformation campaign to prevent action,” Henn explained. He described the company’s actions as “deplorable.”
But is it criminal? “What Exxon could get nailed with is lying to their shareholders, deceiving the government, or conspiring with other oil companies to manipulate the market or block the deployment of renewable energy,” Henn told 3p. “This may turn out to be like getting the mob for tax evasion. Either way, the political impact will be enormous.”
ExxonMobil and Shell spent millions on obstructive climate policy lobbying
ExxonMobil has contributed much money to obstructing climate change policies, including to lobbyists who deal in climate change denial. And it’s not the only oil and gas company doing so. A recent report by InfluenceMap found that a total of $115 million was spent on obstructive climate policy lobbying by a number of fossil fuel industry entities. That includes ExxonMobil and Shell which spent $27 million and $22 million, respectively.
In addition to their direct spending, ExxonMobil and Shell contributed about $10 million between them to the American Petroleum Institute (API), the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA). The API is the “best funded and most consistently obstructive lobbying forces for climate policy in the U.S.,” as the report stated. The API has a budget of over $200 million and about $65 million of it is for “highly obstructive lobbying against ambitious climate policy.” The report estimates that ExxonMobil contributed $6 million and Shell $3 million to API’s obstructive spending.
Despite what InfluenceMap found about the obstructive climate policy spending of ExxonMobil and Shell, both companies acknowledge human-caused climate change on their respective websites. ExxonMobil states: “The risk of climate change is clear and the risk warrants action … There is a broad scientific and policy consensus that action must be taken to further quantify and assess the risks.” Shell claims that it “has long recognized the climate challenge and the role of energy in enabling a decent quality of life.”
Neither company’s actions match up with their claims. That is why ExxonMobil is being investigated by state attorneys. Back in February, three congressional members asked the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to investigate if Shell’s failures to disclose climate change risks to its business operations violated securities laws. In a letter to the SEC, the congressional members said: “As a publicly-traded company, Shell has a duty to follow U.S. securities law … including disclosure requirements as they apply to business or legal developments relating to the issue of climate change.”
Indeed, fossil fuel companies have a responsibility to disclose climate change risks to their shareholders and to the public.
Image credit: Flickr/MikeMozart