The lawsuit claims that energy companies knew about man-made climate change since the 1950s, yet intentionally misled the public about its reality.
Washington, D.C., has filed a lawsuit against energy companies ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Shell over climate change.
Filed Thursday by D.C. District Attorney General Karl Racine, the lawsuit accuses the companies of “systematically and intentionally [misleading] consumers in Washington, D.C. […] about the central role their products play in causing climate change.”
The Hill notes that the lawsuit, more specifically, accuses Exxon and other industry giants of knowing about man-made climate change for well over a half-century. Energy companies, states Racine, knew that carbon emissions were having a harmful impact upon the environment since at least the 1950s.
Yet, in spite of their knowledge—or, more likely, because of it—energy companies began investing in “alternative” science that discredited climate scientists’ findings.
“For decades, these oil and gas companies spent millions to mislead consumers and discredit climate science in pursuit of profits,” Racine said. “The defendants violated the District’s consumer protection law by concealing the fact that using fossil fuels threatens the health of District residents and the environment.”
Racine’s lawsuit is similar to another filed by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who accused Exxon, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute of misleading consumers.
In both cases, ExxonMobil spokespeople maintained that the prosecutors’ claims are “baseless and without merit.”
ExxonMobil spokesman Casey Norton, for instance, told The Hill that Racine’s lawsuit is politically motivated and specifically targeted against the energy industry.
“This lawsuit is part of a politically motivated campaign against energy companies,” Norton said. “Legal proceedings like this was millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change.”
Shell, separately, said that its stance on climate change has “been a matter of public record for decades.”
“We agree that action is needed now on climate change, we fully support the need to transition to a lower-carbon future and we’re committed to playing our part,” Shell spokeswoman Ann Arata told The Hill. “As the energy system evolves, so will our business, to provide a mix of products that our customers need and extend the economic and social benefits of energy access to everyone.”
“Addressing a challenge as big as climate change requires cooperation between all segments of society, not lawsuits that masquerade as climate action and impede the collaboration needed for meaningful change,” Arata added.
The Houston Chronicle notes that energy companies last month failed to pass a motion by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In that case, energy companies—including Exxon, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell—attempted to move a lawsuit filed by eight California municipalities into federal court.
The Chronicle explains that it is more difficult for plaintiffs to prove cases in federal court than in state courts.
However, the 9th Circuit refused the companies’ request. Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, said that decision, in particular, spells bad news for industry players still trying to stave off responsibility for climate change.
“A lot of potential plaintiffs were watching that case, and a month later we two get two new plaintiffs in two days,” Muffett said. “It’s all been really bad news for the oil industry.”