By Karen Savage
Connecticut became the latest state to sue ExxonMobil, seeking to hold it accountable for deceiving residents about climate change. State Attorney General William Tong filed the lawsuit in state court against the oil giant on Monday.
“ExxonMobil sold oil and gas, but it also sold lies about climate science. ExxonMobil knew that continuing to burn fossil fuels would have a significant impact on the environment, public health and our economy, yet it chose to deceive the public. No more,” Tong said in a statement.
With the lawsuit, Connecticut joins a handful of other states —including Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island—along with dozens of municipalities suing the fossil fuel industry over its role in exacerbating climate change. Only a few have honed in on only Exxon, the largest oil company in the country. Connecticut also joins the recent trend of zeroing in on the industry’s alleged campaign to keep the public in the dark about its products’ role in global warming.
Tong alleges that Exxon conducted an ongoing, systematic campaign of lies and deception to obscure what the company knew for decades—that burning fossil fuels overwhelmingly drives climate change. In the suit. Tong asserts state law causes of action, including willful violations of the state’s unfair trade practices and consumer protection laws.
“By intentionally and knowingly misrepresenting and/or omitting material facts about the extent of the harmful climatic effects of its fossil-fuel-based products, the research it conducted, the conclusions it reached regarding the climatic effects of its fossil fuel products and the nature of its businness’s impacts on the environment and the climate, ExxonMobil offered and continues to offer a materially deceptive representation of its business practices to consumers with the goal of maximizing profits,” Tong wrote in the complaint, which was filed in Connecticut Superior Court on Monday.
The Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act has no statute of limitations in cases like this, which means the state will likely be able to examine decades of records related to Exxon’s alleged deception, according to the AG’s office.
“This misinformation campaign by the fossil fuel companies misled the public and stymied policy that cost us decades of inaction,” said Katie Dykes, commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
“Because of these delays, Connecticut is already experiencing the very real, and very costly, impacts of man-made climate change.”
As in much of the Northeast, extreme heat is rising in Connecticut. Temperatures have warmed by as much as 3.1 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970, according to research compiled by Climate Central. Norwich, Conn., is the 13th fastest-warming city in the U.S. and by 2100, summer temperatures in Hartford are expected to be similar to Orlando’s today.
Atlantic hurricanes are growing stronger and the state sustained significant damage during Hurricane Sandy, as 10 to 12 foot waves pummelled coastal areas. More than 55,000 people are currently at risk of coastal flooding and as sea level rises, that number is expected to increase to 85,000 by 2050. More than 130,000 additional residents live in areas with an elevated risk of inland flooding.
“This suit seeks to hold companies accountable for their actions and seeks their just remediation for the damages caused and the challenges that continue to compound into the future,” Dykes said.
The state is seeking an injunction to stop Exxon from engaging in further deception; relief in the form of remediation for past, present and future harm; restitution for investments already made due to climate change; disgorgement of corporate profits; civil penalties; disclosure of all climate research and the establishment of a third-party controlled education fund to counter the company’s decades-long misinformation campaign.
Exxon spokesperson Casey Norton said the claims are “baseless and without merit.”
“Legal proceedings like this waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change,” Norton said, recycling comments made by the company when Hoboken, N.J. and Charleson, S.C. filed climate change-related suits against the company earlier this month.
Phil Goldberg, special counsel for the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project, a project of the National Association of Manufacturers that has advocated on behalf of fossil companies in climate liability suits, said the lawsuits are “ill-conceived.”
“Regardless of how the lawsuits are packaged, making and selling us the energy we all need to be part of modern society is not a liability-inducing event. This is why every court to reach the substance of the allegations has dismissed them—including the U.S. Supreme Court,” Goldberg said, without adding that only one court has addressed the merits of any of the dozens of climate change-related suits filed since 2017.
In that case, after a trial last year, New York Supreme Court Judge Barry Ostrager ruled that the New York AG did not prove allegations that Exxon defrauded or misled investors about climate risks to its business.
But that was one victory in what is now a sea of similar lawsuits. Exxon is named in nearly all of the dozens of climate liability lawsuits that have been filed since 2017.
Tong said Connecticut’s suit is simple and strong.
“ExxonMobil made billions of dollars during its decades-long campaign of deception that continues today,” the AG said. “Connecticut’s citizens should not have to bear the expense of fortifying our infrastructure to adapt to the very real consequences of climate change.”