Minnesota Files a Lawsuit Against ExxonMobil for Misleading Consumers About Climate Change
Major oil companies are trying to portray themselves as being at the vanguard of the clean energy movement. Apparently, they are now concerned about climate change and are investing money in new technologies. However, these recent changes of heart is more surprising in light of allegations that the industry knew about the effects of fossil fuel on climate changes decades ago and allegedly took actions to cover up that knowledge. This is what is alleged in a lawsuit against ExxonMobil filed by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. In addition, Minnesota has also filed a lawsuit against Koch Industries, the owner of a refinery in the state.
Ellison's lawsuit is the latest allegation against a corporation that allegedly knew that its product was dangerous. Not only did these companies keep selling the product, but they also took steps to influence the public debate about the safety of its product. Tobacco, chemical and pharmaceutical companies have all been accused of this type of conduct in lawsuits over the years. Now, the oil companies are being made to answer for these allegations.
Ellison Has Internal Documents that Show Exxon Knew About Climate Change for Decades
The lawsuit claims that there are internal documents that go all the way back to the 1970s that show that ExxonMobil knew that fossil fuels greatly increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the environment. Ellison has one such document that had a 1979 date stamp on it. However, during that time, Exxon was also involved in producing public relations ads denying the effect that its products had on the environment. These ads even claimed that those who believed in climate change were like "Chicken Little."
The lawsuit also details the fact that the petroleum industry knew about the possibility of global warming as far back as the 1950s. The industry became aware that these concerns could affect its business model and profits. Thus, it allegedly began to take steps to not only hide the effect but to also influence the public debate through its own research.
Minnesota is seeking substantial amounts of damages in the lawsuit. When asked about the number in an interview, Ellison said that he expected that the damages would approach the $7 billion that Minnesota received as its share of the tobacco lawsuit. He did not say how the proceeds would be used if the state was successful in recovering damages from the oil company.
Numerous States Have Filed Lawsuits Against Big Oil Companies
Minnesota's lawsuit is that latest in a series of court cases filed against oil companies in connection with climate change. New York sued ExxonMobil on behalf of investors, claiming that the company misled its investors about the effects of climate change. The court dismissed the lawsuit as lacking a valid claim. New York was seeking $1.6 billion on behalf of investors who were allegedly not informed of the true costs of climate change. Ellison distinguishes the New York lawsuit by saying that his court case is a consumer fraud case as opposed to an investor fraud lawsuit.
ExxonMobil has defended itself by saying that Ellison is a tool of the environmental lobby that planted the idea for the lawsuit in his head. The company claimed that his lawsuit was a politically motivated case that wastes taxpayer money in a misguided attempt to deal with climate change.
However, environmental groups are praising Ellison's efforts to take action against the oil industry. They note the disproportionate effect that pollution and global warming have on minorities and persons of color. In Minnesota, Native Americans tribes are seeing a type of wild rice that is sacred to them become threatened by the effects of climate change. It is causing wetter summers that threatens the long-term viability of the plant.
There are 15 states that are currently suing oil companies over the effects of climate change. To date, no states have been successful in recovering any money from oil companies. However, states have been trying different legal strategies to try to hold the oil industry accountable for the effects of global warming. Minnesota's lawsuit is most similar to one filed by Massachusetts that is still pending. Immediately after Ellison filed Minnesota's lawsuit, the District of Columbia filed its own lawsuit against ExxonMobil and other large oil companies also claiming that they violated consumer protection statutes. There are now numerous lawsuits pending against these companies.
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