Massachusetts’ highest court on Tuesday rejected a bid by ExxonMobil to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the state that accuses the oil giant of misleading the public about the role its fossil fuels play in causing climate change.
The lawsuit filed in 2019 by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey alleges Exxon launched an effort, “reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s long denial campaign about the dangerous effects of cigarettes,” to deceive consumers and investors about climate change.
Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court upheld a lower court ruling that rejected the company’s argument that a state law shielded it from the lawsuit.
A phone message seeking comment was left with Exxon, which has denied spreading disinformation about the contribution of fossil fuels to global warming.
In a congressional hearing last year, the company's CEO, Darren Woods, told lawmakers that its public statements on climate “are and have always been truthful” and that Exxon has “long acknowledged the reality and risks of climate change” and "devoted significant resources to addressing those risks.″
The Massachusetts lawsuit says Exxon engaged in a “sophisticated, multi-million dollar campaign” to sow doubt in climate science and downplay the link between fossil fuels and climate change. The lawsuit says Exxon also undertook “greenwashing campaigns” in an effort to portray itself as environmentally responsible.
“Rather than honestly disclose and mitigate climate change risks, ExxonMobil’s misrepresentations about and failures to disclose those risks have delayed the needed transition to clean energy around the world and make these existential climate-driven threats to the global economy more likely to occur,” the complaint says.
Healey called the court's ruling a “resounding victory” in the state's efforts to “stop Exxon from lying to investors and consumers.”
“Exxon’s repeated attempts to stonewall our lawsuit have been baseless, and this effort was no different. We look forward to proceeding with our case and having our day in court to show how Exxon is breaking the law and to put an end to the deception once and for all,” she said in a statement.
Lawyers for Exxon argued in court documents that the company’s statements about climate change and energy policy were “protected petitioning activity” even if they were made to defend the company’s reputation.
But the top court said the law Exxon claimed should protect the company in this case doesn't apply to government enforcement actions brought by the attorney general.
It's the latest twist in yearslong battle between Massachusetts and Exxon. The company previously unsuccessfully sued Massachusetts in an effort to block Healey's investigation into Exxon and climate change.