Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Jan Lee headshot

ExxonMobil Fights State Access to Climate Change Research

By Jan Lee

ExxonMobil wants justices on Massachusetts' highest court to block an investigation by the state attorney's office into Exxon's corporate records. Its reason seems spurious. Corporate lawyers argue a state should not be able to seek material that addresses whether the company misled the public.

In a statement last Tuesday to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Exxon attorney Justin Anderson said their concern had nothing to do with speculations about whether Exxon knew decades ago that its operations would increase global warming.

“We are not asking this court to weigh in on the causes of climate change,” said Anderson.

Rather, Anderson said, ExxonMobil should only be "held to account here for what they’ve done here," meaning operations within the state itself.

Exxon merged with Mobil in 1998 to form ExxonMobil, but much of the research in question was pioneered by Exxon prior to the merger.

But apparently the attorney general's office doesn't see it that way. Attorney Richard Johnston, speaking on behalf of Attorney General Maura Healey, stated that the corporation was actually responsible for the marketing and advertising operations of Exxon gas stations in the state, and therefore had direct say in controlling the environmental impact of its franchized businesses.

According to Johnston, ExxonMobil wants the courts to “essentially suspend common sense and your own cognizance of what is going on in this commonwealth,” and that it has responsibility and “consistently [does] business here in Massachusetts.

"We should be able to find out whether they knew about impact of fossil fuels on global warming so they should have said more in those advertisements,” Johnston said.

According to the Boston Herald, Healey's investigation was already approved by the state's lower court after the attorney general's office proved that the corporation's branding was on more than 300 service stations across the state, and that its head office in Irving, Texas, actually has direct say into the promotional sale of that product. In January, Superior Court Judge Heidi Brieger ruled that ExxonMobil was required to turn over the requested documents.

The gas pump  said Johnston, is among "the premier contributors to global warming."

The company, on the other hand, feels Healey, the Attorney General, showed bias against the company in earlier press events. It is suing Healey, whose investigation delves directly into the company's environmental investigations and the conclusions it came to long before climate change was linked in part, to emissions from carbon-based industries.

But the state of Massachusetts isn't the only government that is probing whether ExxonMobil misled stakeholders over the years about the potential link between its products and climate change. New York State Attorney Eric Schneiderman said in June that he was in possession of “potential materially false and misleading statements by Exxon” that suggest it misled investors about its operations and its impact on the climate. ExxonMobil has also heard from its shareholders in more recent years, who have said they want climate change risks clarified and addressed.

The U.S. Securities Exchange Commission is also investigating how the company values its stock in light of carbon emissions and the sustainability projections for the industry.

As of the time of the SEC's investigation last year, ExxonMobil remained the only oil and gas provider to have not adjusted its valuations in line with falling oil prices. In February, it announced to its shareholders and the SEC that it was cutting the number of recoverable reserves, acknowledging that some investments in the oil sands sector appeared to be unrecoverable due to cost.

Flickr image: Mike Mozart



Jan Lee headshot

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

Read more stories by Jan Lee