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December 11 2019

Maura Healey, call your office.

by Jennifer C. Braceras

Now might be a good time for Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to drop that frivolous lawsuit against ExxonMobil.

In a case filed this fall, Healey is seeking monetary damages from the oil and gas giant, claiming the company misled investors and consumers about the potential impact of future climate-change regulation. 

On Tuesday, a New York state court cleared ExxonMobil of fraud in a similar case. 

Like Healey, the New York Attorney General claimed that the company’s use of one set of metrics for public disclosure and another for internal planning purposes misled shareholders. But the company used the two metrics for different purposes: the public metrics projected the impact of climate policies on worldwide demand decades into the future; the internal metrics estimated the impact that a subset of climate policies in a particular jurisdiction might have on the costs of potential future projects if funded.

Calling the New York lawsuit “politically motivated” and “hyperbolic,” Judge Barry Ostrager accepted Exxon’s argument that its internal metrics “do not impact the company’s financial statements and other corporate books and records.” 

Notably, the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier reviewed the company’s disclosures and found no basis for legal action, and the New York prosecutors failed to produce testimony from investors who said that they were misled by the company’s risk assessment.

The ruling is yet another victory for the energy sector against progressive politicians who are abusing the legal system in an attempt to punish private companies for the public problem of climate change.

In 2018, a federal court in California threw out a lawsuit by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland that claimed that oil companies had created an unauthorized “public nuisance” and should pay the costs of government projects to mitigate the effects of climate change. Judge William Alsup acknowledged the scientific consensus that fossil fuels have “materially” accelerated climate change, but he held that the cities could not punish the oil companies for selling a legal product.

“Our industrial revolution and the development of our modern world has literally been fueled by oil and coal,” Alsup wrote, and it is the job of the legislative and executive branches of government — not the courts — to “balance the social utility against the gravity of the anticipated harm” of climate change.

That same year, a federal court in Manhattan dismissed a suit by the city of New York against Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell. In that case, Judge John F. Keenan ruled that the federal Clean Air Act preempts common-law nuisance claims and that using the courts to sue international oil companies for damages stemming from foreign greenhouse gas emissions “severely infringe[s] upon the foreign-policy decisions that are squarely within the purview of the political branches of the U.S. government.” In other words, the political branches of government -- Congress and the Executive branch -- are the appropriate places to set climate policy. Not the courts.

Of course, these cases are about more than just legal liability. They are part of a deliberate p.r. campaign by progressive activists to smear as corrupt the energy companies that power our world.  In that sense, the Massachusetts Attorney General may not care that the New York court on Tuesday poked a major hole in her case. Healey may just continue the fight as a means of tarnishing ExxonMobil and bolstering her own street creds as a progressive climate warrior.





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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