Exxon Moves To Block NY Climate Fraud Investigation, Cries 'Political Bias'

ExxonMobil has asked a federal court to throw out a subpoena issued by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, claiming investigations into whether the oil and gas giant covered up the risks of climate change are politically motivated.

In November of last year, Schneiderman subpoenaed Exxon to obtain documents related to allegations that it lied to the public and its investors. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey joined the probe in March.

Exxon’s motion, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Texas, seeks to invalidate Schneiderman’s subpoena. The investigations by the New York and Massachusetts AGs, the company said in a release, are “biased attempts to further a political agenda for financial gain.

“Attorney General Schneiderman has publicly accused ExxonMobil of engaging in a ‘massive securities fraud’ without any basis whatsoever, and Attorney General Healey declared, before her investigation even began, that she knew how it would end: with a finding that ExxonMobil violated the law,” Exxon’s amended complaint said.

Exxon sued Healy in June in an effort to bar a so-called civil investigative demand from her office.

Monday’s filing comes amid mounting troubles for Exxon. In addition to the fraud investigations, the Securities and Exchange Commission has begun an investigation into how ExxonMobil values future projects amid climate change and plunging oil prices.

Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Schneiderman’s office, told The Huffington Post that Exxon’s motion “represents nothing more than a desperate attempt at forum-shopping.”

“As we’ve seen for months, Exxon will do everything in its power to distract, delay, and avoid any investigation into its actions, which may have violated state securities and consumer fraud laws,” Spitalnick said in an email. “Exxon’s latest claims in its stunt litigation in Texas are meritless, and are the same type of claims that have been rejected by courts for years.”

In its statement Monday, Exxon said it has publicly recognized the risk of climate change for more than a decade. The company claims it has cooperated with the New York investigation, turning over more than 1 million pages of documents, but that it’s become apparent Schneiderman is “simply searching for a legal theory, however flimsy, that will allow him to pressure ExxonMobil on the policy debate over climate change.”

Running to Exxon’s defense every step of the way has been Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), demanding documents related to ongoing investigations and claiming the New York and Massachusetts probes “amount to a form of extortion” and are a “blatant effort to silence free speech.”

Jamie Henn, of environmental group 350.org, says Exxon is using Big Tobacco’s strategy of “delay and deceit.”

Exxon has hired an army of lawyers to try and distract from the real story here: that they lied about their knowledge of climate change for decades,” he said in a statement. “Exxon’s filing leaves out the fact that they have spent millions of dollars funding misinformation campaigns, faux think tanks, and the elections of climate deniers. They’re reacting this way because they know the stakes of this investigation are enormous.” 

This spring, a larger coalition called AGs United for Clean Power formed after reports by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times found that Exxon executives were aware of the climate risks associated with carbon dioxide emissions, but funded research to cover up those risks and block solutions.

In a more recent investigation, CIEL uncovered documents showing that the oil industry, including Humble Oil (now Exxon Mobil), was aware of the potential link between fossil fuels and carbon emissions no later than 1957, and was “shaping science to shape public opinion” as early as the 1940s.

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