In a blockbuster story, The New York Times reported that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has subpoenaed oil and gas industry giant ExxonMobil to “determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how those risks might hurt the oil business.”
ExxonMobil, now also the subject of U.S. congressional and activist group calls for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, knew about the risks of climate change since the 1970s and studied those risks internally for decades.
But the company subsequently funded climate change denial and disinformation efforts to the tune of at least $31 million.
Coal giant Peabody Energy has also been swept into the fold by Schneiderman, with The Times revealing for the first time that Schneiderman’s office has been digging — for the past two years — into the coal company’s climate denial activity and possible acts of deception.
“The focus includes the company’s activities dating to the late 1970s, including a period of at least a decade when Exxon Mobil funded groups that sought to undermine climate science,” wrote The Times.
ExxonMobil has yet to decide how it will respond to the subpoena.
“We unequivocally reject the allegations that Exxon Mobil has suppressed climate-change research,” Kenneth Cohen, vice president of public affairs for the company, told The Times.
Schneiderman’s Peabody probe has followed a similar line of inquiry to that of the ExxonMobil one, with his office looking into “whether [the company] properly disclosed financial risks related to climate change.”
Depending on the what the New York Attorney General’s office learns from its investigation, it may deploy the Martin Act, a blunt tool Schneiderman’s office can use to tackle alleged financial fraud.
Other oil companies could be next in line for the AG‘s office query, confidential sources told The Times, parallelling what happened with tobacco companies in the 1990’s.
The subpoena is the fruits of the labor of an investigation that has been ongoing for almost a year by Schneiderman, sparked initially by revelations of ExxonMobil and other companies covertly funding the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics’ climate change denier Willie Soon‘s denial research.
A confidential source told InsideClimate News, the Pulitzer Prize-winning news organization that has broken most of the stories about ExxonMobil’s research on and subsequent public denial of climate change, that the subpoena is 18 pages long and “seeks documents from Exxon related to its research into the causes and effects of climate change, to the integration of climate change findings into business decisions, to communications with the board of directors and to marketing and advertising materials on climate change.”
InsideClimate News also published some of the things demanded by Schneiderman’s office, including the following:
-Documents on climate change prepared for or by industry groups including the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Oil & Gas Association and the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association.
-Documents related to Exxon’s support or funding of advocacy groups involved in climate change.
-Marketing and advertising documents about climate change, including communications to employees and spokesmen about how to discuss the subject, as well as advertisements and other public-facing documents.
“‘Exxon Knew’ just joined the category of truly serious scandals,” Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, said in a press statement. “New York’s attorney general has shown great courage in holding to account arguably the richest and most powerful company on Earth. We hope that other state attorney generals and the federal Department of Justice, and the Securities Exchange Commission will show similar fortitude.”
Two of the three Democratic Party presidential candidates have also weighed in on The Times’ story on Twitter.
The evidence suggests Exxon lied about climate change to protect their profits. If it’s true, they broke the law. https://t.co/iAmVIbTIVc
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) November 5, 2015
— Martin O’Malley (@MartinOMalley) November 5, 2015
As the old adage goes, things just got a whole lot more interesting.
Photo Credit: ExxonKnew.tumblr.com