NEW YORK – Exxon Mobil, the largest US petroleum firm, was found not guilty on Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by the New York State Attorney’s Office accusing it of downplaying the cost to its business of climate change regulations.
Judge Barry Ostrager ruled that the prosecution did not provide sufficient evidence to prove that the firm deceived investors, but he also did not excuse Exxon Mobil of accountability for global warming.
Ostrager, in his written opinion, said that the state attorney general’s office did not prove “that Exxon Mobil made any material misstatements or omissions about its practices and procedures that misled any reasonable investor.”
However, the judge acknowledged that the verdict, the result of a four-year investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office and a three-week trial, went on to say that “Nothing in this opinion is intended to absolve Exxon Mobil from responsibility for contributing to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases.”
“But Exxon Mobil is in the business of producing energy, and this is a securities fraud case, not a climate change case,” he added.
New York authorities alleged that Exxon Mobil provided different calculations of the cost of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions depending on whether they were issuing statements to the public or internally and the firm’s top leadership authorized them, although that was denied by the company’s former CEO, Rex Tillerson, whom President Donald Trump tapped to serve for a time as US secretary of state.
James’ office said in a statement that despite the judge’s ruling, the case had forced Exxon “to answer publicly for their internal decisions that misled investors.”
“Throughout this case, we laid out how Exxon made materially false, misleading, and confusing representations to the American people about the company’s response to climate change regulations,” James said.
“Exxon’s inability to tell the truth, further underscores the lies that have been sold to the American public for decades,” her office added, going on to say that “Despite this decision, we will continue to fight to ensure companies are held responsible for actions that undermine and jeopardize the financial health and safety of Americans across our country, and we will continue to fight to end climate change.”
Meanwhile, an Exxon spokesman released a statement saying that “We provided our investors with accurate information on the risks of climate change,” adding that “Lawsuits that waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change.”
On the day closing arguments were presented in court, Nov. 7, the New York Attorney General’s Office withdrew two of the fraud charges it had filed against the oil giant.
The trial drew many environmental activists to the outside steps of the Supreme Court to protest under the slogan that “Exxon knew” and on Tuesday they thanked the New York Attorney General’s Office for its efforts despite Exxon’s victory.
The head for North America of the 350.org organization, Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, said that dozens of US municipalities have announced lawsuits against big oil companies for climate damage, adding that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has filed a complaint similar to New York’s against Exxon.