BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts’ highest court on Tuesday rejected a bid by ExxonMobil to dismiss a state lawsuit that accuses the oil giant of misleading the public about the role its fossil fuels in climate change.
The 2019 lawsuit filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey alleges that Exxon launched an effort, “recalling the tobacco industry’s long campaign of denial about the dangerous effects of cigarettes,” to mislead consumers and investors on climate change.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld a lower court ruling that rejected the company’s argument that a state law shielded it from the lawsuit.
A phone message seeking comment was left with Exxon, which denied spreading misinformation about the contribution of fossil fuels to global warming.
During a congressional hearing last year, the company’s CEO, Darren Woods, told lawmakers that his public climate statements “are and always have been truthful” and that Exxon has “long recognized the reality and risks of climate change” and “devoted significant resources to address these risks.″
The Massachusetts lawsuit says Exxon engaged in a “sophisticated multi-million dollar campaign” to sow doubt in climate science and downplay the link between fossil fuels and climate change. The lawsuit says Exxon also undertook “greenwashing campaigns” in an effort to portray itself as environmentally responsible.
“Rather than honestly disclosing and mitigating climate change risks, ExxonMobil’s misrepresentation of these risks and failure to disclose these risks has delayed the needed transition to clean energy around the world and makes these threats existential climate-related shocks to the global economy more likely to occur,” the complaint said.
Healey called the court’s decision a “resounding victory” in the state’s efforts to “prevent Exxon from lying to investors and consumers.”
“Exxon’s repeated attempts to block our lawsuit have been without merit, and this effort was no different. We look forward to pursuing our case and having our day in court to show how Exxon is breaking the law and putting end the deception once and for all,” she said in a statement.
Exxon lawyers argued in court papers that the company’s statements on climate change and energy policy were “protected petition activities,” even if they were meant to defend the company’s reputation.
But the high court said the law Exxon says should protect the company in this case does not apply to government enforcement actions brought by the attorney general.
This is the latest twist in a long battle between Massachusetts and Exxon. The company previously unsuccessfully sued Massachusetts in an effort to block Healey’s investigation into Exxon and climate change.