On the same day that former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump's secretary of state nominee, was dodging questions about the ongoing ExxonKnew investigation, a Massachusetts court on Wednesday ordered the oil company to hand over decades of documents regarding what it knew about climate change.
The ruling (pdf), handed down by Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Heidi Brieger, denied Exxon's attempt to delay, directing the company to comply with the investigation by state Attorney General Maura Healey.
The decision was widely hailed as a big win for Healey and other state AGs probing allegations, unearthed by the Los Angeles Times and InsideClimate News, that the oil giant had suppressed evidence going back to the 1970s of the impact of burning fossil fuels on the climate as well as funded misinformation campaigns to spread skepticism about the growing scientific consensus.
"This order affirms our longstanding authority to investigate fraud," Healey wrote on Twitter after the ruling. Both Healey and New York AG Eric Schneiderman have launched investigations into whether the oil company mislead its investors. "@exxonmobil must come clean about what it knew about climate change," she added.
Tamar Lawrence-Samuel, international policy director for Corporate Accountability International, declared the ruling "a huge victory for democracy and uncovering the truth about Exxon's decades of deception," adding that "with Rex Tillerson poised to be the next U.S. Secretary of State, the timing couldn't be better."
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Wednesday also marked the same day as Tillerson's senate confirmation hearing, during which he "essentially pleaded the fifth," as Oil Change International executive director Stephen Kretzmann put it, when asked about Exxon's climate crimes.
"This decision could help expose not only what Exxon knew and covered up in the past but also what kind of activities and denialism it continues to fund to undermine climate action," Lawrence-Samuel continued, referring to the Massachusetts ruling. "This decision is proof that states will lead where the federal government won't. While Donald Trump's administration is focused on advancing the interests of Exxon Mobil and other fossil fuel interests, states like Massachusetts will continue to lead the way on exposing Big Oil's dirty tactics and advancing climate action."
Similarly, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben said, "Rex Tillerson may be trying to make his getaway, but it's good to see that the courts may yet hold Exxon responsible for the damage it's done to this planet and to our democracy."
"It was astonishing to watch Tillerson dodge and weave," McKibben added, "almost as if he hadn't spent his entire career at ExxonMobil. Apparently, alongside the climate damage it causes, longterm exposure to Big Oil impairs your memory."