By Karen Savage
New York Attorney General Letitia James won’t appeal a New York Supreme Court ruling that said Exxon did not defraud investors or mislead them about climate risks to its business.
James said her suit was a historic step forward in efforts to hold Exxon accountable for its actions, even if Judge Barry Ostrager rejected the state’s claims that the company acted illegally.
“For the first time in history, ExxonMobil was compelled to answer publicly for their internal decisions that misled the public,” James said, adding that her office will continue to fight to ensure companies are held responsible for harming people, including driving climate change.
Ostrager’s ruling was the culmination of a suit that began in 2016 when then-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman began an investigation into Exxon’s climate change accounting and its communications with investors.
After a lengthy and contentious investigation, the AG’s office filed suit against Exxon in 2018, alleging the oil giant deceived investors for years by deliberately downplaying the climate risks to its business and long-term financial health. The AG also alleged that the “fraud reached the highest levels of the company,” including former chief executive Rex Tillerson.
During the trial late last year, the court heard testimony by Exxon employees, accountants, auditors and experts, and saw documents offering a glimpse into Exxon’s inner workings. Ostrager, however, was not convinced and in a scathing decision rejected the AG’s allegations.
While Exxon has now been cleared in the New York case, it still faces a suit by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who filed it in October alleging the oil giant has misled consumers with deceptive advertising and failed to disclose climate-related risks to its investors.
Healey says Exxon has long known its products drive climate destabilization and failed to disclose the risks catastrophic climate impacts from continued fossil fuel burning pose to the global economy.
James said information revealed during the New York trial could help hold Exxon accountable.
“The oil giant has never taken seriously the severe economic impact that climate change regulations will have on the company, and that truth was laid bare at trial.”