New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood is pressing for Exxon climate documentsNew York's new attorney general, Barbara Underwood, is pressing for Exxon climate documents showing the company's internal accounting. Photo credit: Office of New York State Attorney General

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By Ucilia Wang

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood has asked for a court order to force ExxonMobil to turn over financial documents she said the company has withheld during her office’s investigation into whether the company misled shareholders and the public about climate change.

In a request filed last week, Underwood said the state’s investigation has already turned up evidence that the oil company used one set of data to estimate climate risk it shares publicly and a second set of numbers for its internal calculations. The state subpoenaed Exxon for documents it believes contain the second set of numbers but has yet to receive them.

Exxon uses those estimated costs to determine how much government regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the future will cost the company. The estimates also impact the company’s investment decisions and the value of its oil fields and other assets.

Underwood said that second set of numbers are lower cost estimates, and they create a rosier picture of Exxon’s future sales of oil and gas. Exxon said in its most recent company report that climate policy poses “little risk” to its fossil fuel reserves.

“The evidence obtained in the course of (Office of Attorney General’s) investigation provides substantial reason to believe that Exxon’s representations were false and misleading,” according to Underwood’s filing, which was first reported by InsideClimate News.

“For many years, Exxon concealed from the public that it maintained a second set of proxy costs, separate from the figures it disclosed to the public in its annual Outlook Reports, and implied that the costs set forth in the Outlook Reports were the same as those used in making cost projections for investment decisions,” the filing said.

Exxon did not respond to a request for comment.

New York’s former attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, launched an investigation into Exxon in 2014 and issued its first subpoena in the case in 2015.

The oil company has fought hard to derail the investigation. It asked a Texas court to stop New York’s probe, arguing that the investigation was politically motivated and violated its free speech and other constitutional rights. The case was transferred to New York, where U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni dismissed Exxon’s challenge in March and called the company’s claims “a wild stretch of logic.”

Exxon has filed the same complaint against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and lost that bid in the state’s highest court in April. The court ordered Exxon to turn over the documents sought by Healey.