California AG to Investigate what #ExxonKnew
January 26, 2016
California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris is investigating whether Exxon Mobil Corp. repeatedly lied to the public and its shareholders about the risk to its business from climate change — and whether such actions could amount to securities fraud and violations of environmental laws.
Harris’ office is reviewing what Exxon Mobil knew about global warming and what the company told investors, a person close to the investigation said.
The move follows published reports, based on internal company documents, suggesting that during the 1980s and 1990s the company, then known as Exxon, used climate research as part of its planning and other business practices but simultaneously argued publicly that climate-change science was not clear cut.
(US Rep. Ted Lieu, US Rep – Torrance) said he hopes the decision by Harris, representing a state with the eighth-largest economy in the world, will prompt other states and the Justice Department to investigate.
This is welcome news. California is investigating whether Exxon Mobil Corp. misled investors about the causes and effects of climate change and the likely impact on the oil company’s business.
It’s welcome not because Exxon Mobil necessarily did anything wrong or deserves punishment. That remains to be seen.
It’s welcome because the investigation by state Attorney General Kamala Harris can help to reveal exactly what Exxon Mobil knows — and has known over the years — about climate risks.
And knowing what companies like Exxon Mobil know could make for a more informed debate about the realities of global warming and what should be done to mitigate damage.
Official responses to climate change have mostly been based on data turned up by government, academic and environmental groups’ research.
Isn’t that data convincing? Not to many people, particularly political conservatives, who charge that the research is inconclusive or even that researchers have cooked the books in order to further arguments for stepped-up government regulation of business and fossil-fuels consumption.
This should be a big issue in the November election. Republican presidential candidates ridicule Obama administration actions to combat climate change. Backers of the 195-nation agreement to curb carbon emissions fear that a Republican in the White House would seriously undermine the accord.
Would data showing historic increases in global temperatures be more convincing to more people if it was indisputably not the product of only ivory-tower researchers with possible axes to grind? Would it be different if the data came from private companies with billions of dollars on the line?
The investigations spring from news media reports last year showing the company has done its own research on climate change since the 1970s, and has been using that and other experts’ findings as the basis for planning; but at the same time, the company publicly questioned the existence of global warming and funded groups and politicians who fought against government-imposed measures to limit climate-changing emissions.
California is not the only state to investigate ExxonMobil. In November, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an investigation into the company to determine if it lied to the public or investors about climate change risks. The state’s investigation is focused on statements Exxon made to investors, the New York Times reported.
Reports by various media outlets, including Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, reveal that Exxon incorporated climate change into its plans and practices in the 1980s and 1990s, while publicly casting doubt on climate science. The Inside Climate News report details a shady company that researched climate-related risks starting in the late 1970s and through most of the 1980s, but didn’t inform the public or its investors.
In 1977, a senior company scientist spoke to oilmen at Exxon’s headquarters. The scientist, James F. Black, said: “In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.”
Exxon’s response to Black’s warning was to launch its own research into carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. In 1979, Exxon “outfitted a supertanker with custom-made instruments,” Inside Climate News reports. The supertanker, which it spent over $1 million on for over three years, sampled carbon in the air and ocean as it made its way from the Gulf of Mexico to the Persian Gulf. A year later, the company put together a team that investigated carbon emissions and their effect on the climate.
In 1982, Exxon wrote a corporate primer on climate change and carbon emissions. In the primer, the company said dealing with climate change “would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion,” Inside Climate News reported. If that didn’t happen “there are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered,” the primer stated. Exxon published its results in the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences and an American Geophysical Union monograph.
Climate science expert James Hansen testified about climate change before Congress in 1988. After that, Exxon began to fund groups that cast doubt on climate change science and was a founding member of the Global Climate Coalition, a group of mostly U.S. businesses that oppose government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A Los Angeles Times investigation found that Exxon gave over $15 million to organizations that cast doubts on climate change from 1998 to 2005. But it wasn’t until 2007 that the company disclosed climate change risks to its shareholders for the first time.