In a move widely welcomed by climate campaigners and other critics of the fossil fuel industry, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong on Monday launched a state lawsuit against ExxonMobil for "an ongoing, systematic campaign of lies and deception" regarding the oil and gas giant's products and the climate crisis.
"ExxonMobil sold oil and gas, but it also sold lies about climate science."
—Connecticut Attorney General William Tong
"ExxonMobil sold oil and gas, but it also sold lies about climate science," Tong said in a statement, referencing the company's decades of concealing internal science. "ExxonMobil knew that continuing to burn fossil fuels would have a significant impact on the environment, public health, and our economy. Yet it chose to deceive the public."
"ExxonMobil made billions of dollars during its decades-long campaign of deception that continues today," he added. "Connecticut's citizens should not have to bear the expense of fortifying our infrastructure to adapt to the very real consequences of climate change. Our case is simple and strong, and we will hold ExxonMobil accountable."
With Tong's filing (pdf), his state joined what the Center for Climate Integrity (CCI) called a "fast-growing wave of climate lawsuits" targeting fossil fuel companies. According to the center, 22 other communities—including four other states—have filed similar suits since 2017.
Connecticut's suit is the fourth filed so far this month—following the state of Delaware and the cities of Charleston, South Carolina and Hoboken, New Jersey—and comes as climate change-fueled wildfires engulf the western United States and Gulf Coast residents prepare for a hurricane in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Communities across the US are launching lawsuits against Big Oil:
Last week: Delaware & Charleston, South Carolina.
— 350 dot org (@350) September 14, 2020
As communities across the country have endured devastating extreme weather in recent years that scientists warn will worsen as human activity continues to drive up global temperatures, fossil fuel companies have faced increased scrutiny for not only their contributions to the planetary crisis but also their concealment of research and campaigns to sow doubt about climate science—particularly in the wake of damning 2015 reports about ExxonMobil by InsideClimate News and The Los Angeles Times.
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"This avalanche of climate litigation is Exxon's worst nightmare," CCI executive director Richard Wiles said in a statement Monday. "The public increasingly understands Big Oil's role in causing and lying about the climate crisis, and states and localities are stepping up like never before to demand justice and hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for their lies and deception."
For over half a century, these corporations have known what their businesses could do to people and the planet and paid millions of dollars to try and get away with it. (More on Exxon here: https://t.co/tTV8utgVoi)
— Corporate Accountability (@StopCorpAbuse) September 14, 2020
ExxonMobil will defend itself in the case and continue investing in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, company spokesperson Casey Norton told Reuters, while claiming that "legal proceedings like this waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change."
However, as Wiles explained, "North, South, East, and West, communities across the country are struggling to protect themselves in the face of the climate crisis. These lawsuits are about surviving climate change, not solving it."
"They are an essential step toward holding polluters accountable for decades of propaganda and disinformation that stalled climate action and caused untold destruction," Wiles added. "Now the only question is, who will sue Big Oil next?"
CCI also pointed out that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has previously expressed support for climate litigation against polluters. As President Donald Trump headed to fire-ravaged California on Monday, Biden was in Delaware, which he represented in the U.S. Senate for decades.
After blasting Trump's denial of science over the weekend and warning that "we absolutely must act now to avoid a future defined by an unending barrage of tragedies like the one American families are enduring across the West today," Biden on Monday acknowledged his state's new suit:
"Just last week, Delaware state attorney general sued 31 big fossil fuel companies alleging that they knowingly wrecked havoc and damage on our climate. Damage that is plain for everyone to see." #ExxonKnew pic.twitter.com/0qfkkdqBln
— Pay Up Climate Polluters (@climatecosts) September 14, 2020
Responding in a statement, 350 Action campaign manager Jenny Marienau Zimmer declared that "this is an important example of the Biden campaign recognizing the need to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for knowingly bringing fires, smog, and disaster to our doorstep."
"Biden is clearly listening to the demands of frontline communities and our movement," Marienau Zimmer said. "In jarring contrast, as California faces a climate emergency, Trump is brazenly denying the crisis."