California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is urged to investigate Exxon for climate fraudCalifornia Attorney General Xavier Becerra has so far steered clear of the push to investigate Exxon for climate fraud. Photo credit: Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images

By Lynn Zinser

Representatives from 34 organizations have sent a letter to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, urging him to launch an investigation into ExxonMobil’s conduct involving climate change.

The signers come from prominent environmental organizations like Greenpeace and 350.org, but also include typically non-political organizations. Signers include representatives of the California Teachers Association, California Nurses Association, the National Association of Healthcare Workers and the Public Good Law Center.

“A mounting body of public evidence has demonstrated that Exxon Mobil has not accurately informed the public, policymakers, or its shareholders about the serious climate change risks associated with the company, its products, and its investments,” the letter reads. “There is compelling evidence that Exxon Mobil knew of the many risks of climate change and how these risks influenced their own economic future. Instead of acting responsibly, it spent years distorting the truth. The people of California deserve better.”

The letter is part of a long effort to push California to join New York and Massachusetts in the effort to look into Exxon’s history of studying climate science and spending decades supporting organizations that cast doubt on it. While New York’s Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts’ Maura Healey have been vigorously pursuing whether the company committed fraud by misrepresenting what it knows to the public and investors, California has stayed on the sidelines.

That’s despite an initial promise by the state’s former attorney general, Kamala Harris, to pursue an investigation. After Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016, her successor has been all but silent on the issue.

“Understand that the last thing we want is to let people know what we’re doing,” Becerra said at a town hall last year, adding, “I am well aware of the issue involving Exxon.”

Exxon has vigorously pushed back against the New York and Massachusetts investigations, with one countersuit awaiting its next hearing in federal court in New York. Exxon claims the First Amendment protects it from these investigations, which it says are politically motivated.

Becerra faces re-election later this year, and one of his opponents, California insurance commissioner Dave Jones, has vowed to make the potential investigation a campaign issue. Jones is a proponent of holding Exxon accountable for potentially fraudulent conduct.

“I can see no reason why we would delay in that investigation,” Jones told Climate Liability News.

The new letter may help add political pressure on Becerra to act. California has been vocal on many climate change issues, with Gov. Jerry Brown promising the state will continue aggressive climate policies as the federal government speeds away from them.

“In the aftermath of devastating hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and the fires in both Northern and Southern California—indisputably made worse by climate change—this request could not be more timely or urgent,” the letter reads.