BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has been methodically working on a case to find out what Exxon Mobil Corp. knew about the impact of burning fossil fuels — and when.
This week, Healey inched closer to that goal when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a bid by the company meant to block the investigation by the Massachusetts Democrat into whether the company misled investors and consumers about what it knew about the link between fossil fuels and climate change.
Healey is seeking documents from the Irving, Texas-based oil and gas giant to find out whether it concealed key information.
Monday’s decision is the latest legal blow for Exxon Mobil. Last year the highest court in Massachusetts ruled the company must hand over documents sought by Healey.
Healey welcomed Monday’s decision, saying it helps clear the way for her investigation of Exxon Mobil’s conduct toward consumers and investors.
“The public deserves answers from this company about what it knew about the impacts of burning fossil fuels, and when,” Healey tweeted Monday.
While an Exxon Mobil spokesman declined to comment on the court’s decision, the company has pushed back against the idea that its scientists and researchers knew that man-made emissions caused global climate change in the 1970s and 1980s, but that the company kept those findings secret.
The company called the allegations “manufactured” on a post on its website.
“Contrary to their claims, ExxonMobil’s understanding of climate change has tracked the scientific consensus on climate change, and its research on the issue has been published in publicly available peer-reviewed journals,” the company said.
The decision not to hear Exxon Mobil’s case drew applause from environmental and other groups that have warned about the dangers of burning fossil fuels.
“With this ruling, this long-delayed investigation will finally go forward, and yield the truth about what this company knew, when it knew it, and why its public statements seem to be at odds with information provided by the company’s own scientists,” Union of Concerned Scientists President Ken Kimmell said in a statement after the court’s decision not to hear the case.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled last year in favor of Healey.
Exxon Mobil had previously argued that Massachusetts lacks jurisdiction because the company does not have a corporate presence in the state and that Healey should be disqualified from the investigation because of comments she made that Exxon Mobil says show bias against the company — arguments that were rejected.
Those looking at the case see precedent from a case spearheaded by another former Massachusetts attorney general — fellow Democrat Scott Harshbarger — who helped press for a historic settlement which forced the tobacco industry to pay states billions in Medicaid costs related to caring for those suffering from smoking-related illnesses.
Exxon Mobil has also pointed to the settlement, claiming that those going after the company want to “use litigation to gain access to internal energy industry documents on climate change, in hopes of creating scandal that would force a settlement similar in scope to the one reached with Big Tobacco.”
Healey isn’t alone.
In October, former Democratic New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil alleging the company misled investors regarding the risk that climate change regulations posed to its business. The probe had been initiated by her predecessor, former Democratic New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
In an earlier attempt to block the Massachusetts and New York attorneys general, the company had unsuccessfully argued they “are incapable of impartial investigations and are attempting to silence political opponents who disagree on the appropriate policies to address climate change.”