The Massachusetts attorney general investigating ExxonMobil got a big win Wednesday after a judge ordered the company to fork over decades of climate research.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Heidi E. Brieger denied the oil company a protective order that would have blocked Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey’s demand for Exxon’s climate change records. Brieger was nominated to the court by former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick.
The court’s decision comes a day after the company’s former CEO, Rex Tillerson, was grilled during his confirmation hearings to become President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state. Tillerson repeatedly refused to answer questions related to the anti-Exxon investigations.
Healey’s spokeswoman championed the ruling and in the process blasted Exxon for trying to prevent the release of the information.
“Exxon must now end its obstructive tactics and come clean about whether it misled Massachusetts consumers and investors about what it knew about climate change, its causes and effects,” she said.
Healey, for her part, argued last November at the outset of her investigation that Exxon was involved in deceiving “investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change,” and should be held to account for their actions.
She has the right and duty to investigate Exxon if she believes it misled consumers and investors, Brieger ruled.
“Nothing in the Attorney General’s comments at the press conference indicates to the court that she is doing anything more than explaining reasons for her investigation to the Massachusetts consumers she represents,” Brieger wrote.
Financial analysts have raised doubts about a similar investigation brought by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who began his Exxon probes in November 2015.
Merritt Fox, an expert on financial law and securities, told a Columbia Law School panel in May he believes the oil company does not appear to have broken the law. He told the crowd the Martin Act, which would allow the New York Democrat to investigate and eventually prosecute companies for committing fraud, probably shouldn’t be used to punish Exxon.
Since information about the effect climate change has on the environment was already easily acquired using a computer, television, or some other tool, Fox told the panel, then whatever data Exxon chose to hide or withhold was not “material,” or likely to affect the decision-making of its investors.
Texas federal Judge Ed Kinkeade, meanwhile, suggested in October that Healey acted in “bad faith” when she issued a subpoena to the oil company for 30-years worth of documents.
Exxon wants Kinkeade to prohibit Healey from continuing her investigation, arguing the probe violates the company’s First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. It also refutes the idea it violated the law and claims it promotes carbon taxes as a way to fight man-made global warming.
Healey’s investigation is partially the result of a September report on Exxon conducted by InsideClimate News. The outlet’s probes found Exxon had allegedly played fast and loose with information concerning global warming.
InsideClimate News also alleges that Amoco, Phillips, Texaco, Shell, and others joined Exxon in misleading the public about the supposed effects global warming has on sea levels.
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