One of the world's largest oil producers is about to enter a tit-for-tat battle over climate change with government officials from multiple states.
New York, Massachusetts, New York City, and a slew of cities in California have brought multiple lawsuits against oil producers for a lack of disclosure of potential liabilities they may face.
Those possible liabilities could result, the lawyers argue, from future suits over the flood damage to low-lying property anticipated from rising sea levels sparked by climate change, produced by the combustion of the fossil fuels they produce.
But ExxonMobil, one of the oil companies in governmental crosshairs, is in turn targeting its pursuers—on precisely the same grounds.
New York's top prosecutor, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, filed court documents in June 2017 in which he accused ExxonMobil of having misled investors over the cost to the company of greenhouse-gas emissions.
That was followed in December 2017 by the filing of multiple similar lawsuits, in which California cities and counties alleged that "energy producers’ emissions amount to public nuisances under state law," reports Bloomberg.
Natural gas flaring from oil well [licensed under Creative Commons from Flickr user Sirdle]
Even New York City filed its own suit against five major oil companies it claimed have contributed to climate change, which has required the city to undertake tens of billions of dollars of resiliency efforts, the Chicago Tribune reported.
ExxonMobil, in turn, has accused the various state and municipal officials of hypocrisy, and is reportedly preparing countersuits.
Those cities and counties claim a disastrous flood is imminent due to climate change, and energy producers are the cause, in their case against the oil company.
But as Forbes reported early in January, ExxonMobil says the plaintiffs themselves have not disclosed exactly those same risks to possible investors in their own state and municipal bonds.
“It is reasonable to infer that the municipalities brought these lawsuits not because of a bona fide belief in any tortious conduct by the defendants, or actual damage to their jurisdictions," company attorneys said in asking district-court permission to depose California officials and their lawyers.
Instead, the filing argues, the goal of the suit was "instead to coerce ExxonMobil and others operating in the Texas energy sector to adopt policies aligned with those favored by local politicians in California."
Flooded car in parking lot. Photo via Flickr user waitscm/CC2.0
ExxonMobil claims that lack of disclosure amounts to lying to potential bond holders of those cities and counties—as it is being accused of doing.
It also claims the law firm Hagens Berman has been instrumental in creating a “playbook” used by California local governments and the New York and Massachusetts attorneys general against the oil company.
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