Ellison says the ExxonMobil and other big energy companies have known about man-made climate change since the 1950s.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil Corp., Koch Industries and the American Petroleum Institute, saying the three companies withheld knowledge about climate change from the public.
According to the Star Tribune, the lawsuit was filed in Ramsey County District Court. The complaint alleges that each of the oil companies have broken multiple Minnesota laws.
“We’re here suing these defendants—API, ExxonMobil and Koch—for hiding the truth, confusing the facts and muddling the water to devastating effect,” Ellison said in a news conference.
The suit claims charges of fraud, deceptive trade practices, and false advertising.
“When corporations and trade associations break the law and hurt Minnesotans, it’s my job and duty to hold them accountalbe,” Ellison said in a statement. “The fraud, deceptive advertising and other violations of Minnesota state law and common law that the lawsuit shows they perpetrated have harmed Minnesotans’ health and our state’s environment, infrastructure, and economy.”
“The defendants deceived, lied and misrepresented the effects of their product to the public,” Ellison added. “For 30 years, [they] made misleading statements about climate change.”
ExxonMobil, however, has pushed back against Ellison, suggesting that his lawsuit is part of a politically motivated conspiracy against energy companies.
“This lawsuit is part of a coordinated, politically motivated campaign against energy companies,” ExxonMobil spokesman Casey Norton said. “The claims are baseless and without merit. We look forward to defending the company in court.”
Ellison’s case, notes The Wall Street Journal, is meant to hold the energy sector responsible for the ongoing and lasting effects of global climate change.
However, Ellison may have an uphill battle. As the WSJ reports, a New York state judge discarded fraud charges against ExxonMobil in December, finding that New York’s attorney general was unable to establish that Exxon had deceived investors about its long-term plan for climate change.
But Doug Blanke, director of the Public Health Law Center at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, told KSTP5 that Ellison could have a strong case.
“Misleading the public about science is not a new concept,” Blanke said. “Unfortunately, some companies seem to care more about their bottom lines than the public’s health. But it’s a violation of Minnesota law to mislead consumers about the products you sell, and the Attorney General has laid out a powerful case that these companies did exactly that.”
The lawsuit alleges that big oil companies knew about climate change since at least the 1950s. The API, for instance, was aware of scientific reports suggesting rising sea levels and increasing average temperatures in the 1960s, with Exxon accessing the same information shortly afterward.
“Throughout the 1970s, it was becoming increasingly clear that climate change could have serous implications for Exxon’s business model,” the lawsuit says.
The suit claims that, as the years went by and more information about climate change made its way into the public eye, oil companies began a concerted campaign to downplay global warming’s reality—in some cases, they went so far as to fund junk science. Koch-controlled foundations, for example, allegedly “gave more than $127 million to groups that obfuscated climate science.”
KSTP5 notes that, in announcing the lawsuit, Ellison selected a diverse range of speakers—including African-Americans, agricultural workers, and indigenous peoples—who explained, in detail, how climate change had adversely affected their lives, businesses, and well-being.