AG Healey: ExxonMobil must stop its deception
Last week, my office sued ExxonMobil for deceiving Massachusetts consumers and investors about the company and its products (“AG suing Exxon over climate,” Business, Oct. 25). In Jennifer C. Braceras’s op-ed criticizing the lawsuit (“The climate change shakedown,” Oct. 28), she misstates the nature of our case as “a new theory.” In fact, our case is rooted in the same consumer protection law used to take on Big Tobacco, subprime mortgage companies, and opioid manufacturers. It says that companies must be honest with customers about their products.
ExxonMobil even claims in advertising that its gasoline and oil products reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But, of course, they don’t. Producing, refining, and using fossil fuels combine to be a leading cause of climate change. Just like it’s deceptive to claim you make a “safe cigarette,” it’s deceptive to advertise gas as a climate solution. These deceptions violate Massachusetts law. That’s one of the reasons I’m suing ExxonMobil.
Thirty-seven years ago, Exxon scientists predicted the amount of CO2 that would be in the atmosphere in 2019. The company’s own scientist called the climate change consequences “catastrophic.” But Exxon didn’t change its business or tell people what it knew. Instead, it engaged in a decades-long campaign to deceive investors and consumers and sow doubt about climate science. That deception continues to this day.
While we’re seeing the effects of climate change in deadly wildfires, flooding, heat waves, and respiratory disease, ExxonMobil has doubled down on fossil fuels. Meanwhile ExxonMobil deceptively claims to Massachusetts consumers and investors that the company is prepared for climate change and working to address it. The goal of our lawsuit is simple: to stop ExxonMobil from engaging in this deception and penalize the company for this misconduct.
We know this case won’t be easy. But it’s time for ExxonMobil to finally come clean.
Ties to industry should have been disclosed
Jennifer C. Braceras’s op-ed “The climate change shakedown” might have left you wondering why a group that calls itself the Independent Women’s Forum is going to bat for Big Oil.
Had Braceras, director of the Independent Women’s Law Center, disclosed the funding of her organization, you could have figured it out for yourself: The Independent Women’s Forum has a long history of ties to corporations and CEOs that are heavily invested in oil and gas. Since about 2001, for example, the Independent Women’s Forum received $65,000 in contributions from ExxonMobil, according to DeSmogblog.com.
The real shakedown is when groups like Independent Women’s Forum and their corporate backers continue to mislead the public about climate change and obstruct action on needed solutions.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey deserves praise for seeking to hold ExxonMobil accountable for manufacturing doubt about climate change through groups like the Independent Women’s Forum.
It’s not too late for company to be a climate leader
It is true that the discovery and exploitation of fossil fuels has been responsible for much of the growth of economies in the past 200 years. But it is also true that overuse of these fuels is the cause of a great potential disaster to humanity.
ExxonMobil did know many decades ago about the crisis ahead for the environment that we all share now. The company took tentative steps toward taking responsibility by being a founding member of the Climate Leadership Council, which has a plan for a carbon tax that would gradually phase out the use of fossil fuels in the United States. But in spite of being staffed with a number of heavyweight economists, both Republicans and Democrats, who have the ears of Congress, up to now the council has been all talk and no action.
So, ExxonMobil, how about making a deal with the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts that the proposals of the Climate Leadership Council will make it to the floors of the House and Senate for full open debate? Talking about a practical solution in front of the whole country would be a huge, unprecedented step forward.
Judge abrogates his role by passing buck to the other branches
Jennifer C. Braceras quoted Judge William Alsup’s reasoning, in last year’s suit against ExxonMobil, that put responsibility on legislators and the executive branch, not the courts, for balancing “the social utility” of oil and coal “against the gravity of the anticipated harm” of climate change.
What do the scales of justice represent if not precisely the judgment of this balance?
We can now see the increasing social harm caused by increasing CO2, especially to the voiceless weak and poor worldwide.
Fossil fuel industry has made climate change a ‘public problem’
Jennifer C. Braceras’s argument is a ll straw man, no substance. It’s true, as Braceras says, that fossil fuels aren’t illegal, but that doesn’t rebut legal claims for climate damages. Climate policy should be handled by Congress, and courts have a clear role to play in holding polluters accountable for harms caused knowingly.
Climate change is, indeed, a “public problem,” largely because the fossil fuel industry made it so, not because we lack effective, economically viable solutions. What else would you expect after years of calculated deception campaigns, billions of dollars in subsidies, and obstruction of policy?
None of Braceras’s arguments negate allegations made by attorneys general and municipalities across the country. Internal documents reveal that Big Oil knew for decades that burning fossil fuels causes climate change. Instead of acting responsibly, the industry misled the public, media, and government.
That’s the real swindle, and I, for one, am done being taken for a gasoline-powered ride.
The writer is an author and a vice president at Project Drawdown, a not-for-profit resource for climate solutions.