USA: Trial in New York begins accusing ExxonMobil of defrauding shareholders over climate impact of business operations

Lorie Shaull

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11 December 2019

N.Y. loses 'round one,' but fight against Big Oil isn't over

Author: Jennifer Hijazi, E&E News (USA)

New York's top lawyer suffered a major defeat yesterday when a state court decided that prosecutors for Attorney General Letitia James (D) did not present enough evidence that Exxon Mobil Corp. misled investors about the threat of climate change to the oil giant's operations.

But state Supreme Court Justice Barry Ostrager's ruling in People of the State of New York v. Exxon isn't likely to chill other battles over the financial risks of climate change, including the lawsuit Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) launched against Exxon during the thick of the Empire State's three-week trial (Greenwire, Dec. 10).

Though Massachusetts, like New York, argues that Exxon misled shareholders, the Bay State also introduced claims of consumer fraud — a noteworthy distinction, Healey's office said.

"Our office has a separate case against Exxon in Massachusetts," said Chloe Gotsis, a spokeswoman for Healey.

"We were the first state to challenge Exxon's ongoing campaign to mislead Massachusetts consumers and investors about the climate dangers caused by its fossil fuel products, and we will continue our work to hold the company accountable for its misrepresentations."...

While some experts saw New York's widely watched case as a watershed moment for climate accountability, the case lived and died on technical questions over securities law...

But even if the outcome of New York's challenge doesn't affect industry practices, other legal experts say the case highlighted the gap between what oil companies are doing about climate risk and what investors think companies are doing.

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12 November 2019

Everything so far has failed: Why Exxon Mobil is being taken to court over climate change

Author: Ryan Devereuax, Intercept (USA)

The case was the People of the State of New York v. Exxon Mobil Corp., which concluded last week. It is part of a wave of litigation directed at the titans of the fossil fuel industry making its way through courts across the country. “It’s only the second climate-change case ever to go to trial in the United States,” Michael Gerrard, a Columbia Law School professor and one of the world’s leading experts on climate liability litigation...“And it’s the first where the plaintiffs were able to obtain discovery from any of the fossil-fuel companies.”...Should New York Attorney General Letitia James succeed in the case, Exxon Mobil could be on the hook for up to $1.6 billion in damages...

As reporters stood in line waiting for opening arguments to begin in New York, news broke that the Supreme Court had rejected a plea from more than two dozen multinational energy companies, Exxon Mobil included, to block a state-level lawsuit filed by the city of Baltimore — one of more than a dozen filed by state and local governments across the country. The suit is one of several “public nuisance” cases with the potential to open the fossil fuel industry up to liability for its climate impacts in individual localities and communities...

Citing the journalism that revealed Exxon’s “pattern of deception” in 2015, the complaint went on to argue that the “gravity of ExxonMobil’s historic and continuing unlawful actions cannot be overstated; the world lost 40 critical years to develop and deploy new technologies that would allow an orderly transition away from fossil fuels. ExxonMobil’s deception deprived investors and consumers of the central facts so essential to their investment and purchasing choices..."


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28 October 2019

Is the fight in N.Y. really about climate change?

Author: Jennifer Hijazi, E&E News (USA)

"Is the fight in N.Y. really about climate change?", October 28 2019

Activists have rallied around a high-profile trial over Exxon Mobil Corp.'s disclosures of carbon costs as a landmark legal battle on climate accountability. Attorneys for the company, meanwhile, insist that the case has nothing to do with climate...

Legal experts have anticipated that the outcome of this case, built on the bones of an accounting lawsuit, could reverberate more for the climate movement than for the investor community. Court watchers also note that the case could serve as a key piece in the broader puzzle of how to push Big Oil to internalize the costs associated with a changing climate.

...State Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, contends that Exxon violated the Martin Act, a complicated state securities law, by making misleading statements to investors about how the company accounts for climate change risk through planning tools known as "proxy costs." The company denies the claims.

...The real challenge to disclosures, Powell said, stems from the Trump administration's efforts to downplay the narrative of climate change in public company financial statements.

When the Securities and Exchange Commission changed its disclosure rules to require disclosure of only "material" risks, energy companies gained more leeway under the less-stringent obligations.

"What I'm getting back to is the energy industry's ability to make really meaningful, significant changes through their lobbying efforts that no one ever hears or talks about," Powell said. "But the reality is the energy industry is winning in every backroom, creating much more change than even a possible victory in this case would."

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Author: Aurélie Giraud, Conso Globe (France)

...[S]ix ONG ont décidé de poursuivre en justice le groupe Total pour ses activités en Ouganda…C’est ce que dénoncent les ONG selon lesquelles la première action en justice est basée sur la loi relative au « devoir de vigilance » des multinationals…

Les ONG ont constaté une évolution négative de ce projet en Ouganda. Les maisons et les terrains de milliers de personnes sont accaparés. De plus, elles craignent un déséquilibre de la biodiversité très riche du parc et une menace de l’écosystème.

La responsable aux Amis de la Terre, Juliette Renaud a indiqué...: «  Après la date limite d’éligibilité fixée par Total, l’entreprise interdit aux communautés d’utiliser leurs terres et de les cultiver ». Le problème majeur est qu’une année s’est écoulée entre le moment où 4.800 personnes n’ont plus eu le droit de cultiver et celui où elles ont reçu une compensation.

Outre Atlantique, un procès inédit oppose actuellement ExxonMobil, accusé d’avoir minimisé son impact climatique, au procureur démocrate de New York.

Dans ce procès historique, le pétrolier américain est accusé d’avoir menti à ses actionnaires ainsi qu’à ses investisseurs au sujet de ses projections d’activité liées au changement climatique.

Selon le procureur, ExxonMobil utilisait en réalité des estimations de coûts moins élevées que celles en interne afin de ne pas pénaliser les prévisions de marges et la rentabilité présentées aux actionnaires. Ces fausses informations pourraient coûter cher au groupe pétrolier américain… De son côté, l’entreprise dénonce un procès influencé par des lobbies anti-énergies fossiles.

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22 October 2019

Exxon, New York prosecutors face off in climate change fraud trial

Author: Brendan Pierson & Sebastien Malo, Reuters

"Exxon, New York prosecutors face off in climate change fraud trial", 22 October 2019

A lawyer for New York’s attorney general on Tuesday told a state judge Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) used two sets of books to hide the true cost of climate change regulations from investors, while an attorney for the oil major assailed the claims as false and politically motivated.

The lawyers’ opening statements kicked off a long-awaited trial in a civil lawsuit filed by the attorney general last year accusing Exxon of defrauding investors out of up to $1.6 billion. 

The trial, expected to last up to three weeks, will take place before Justice Barry Ostrager in Manhattan Supreme Court without a jury and could feature testimony from Rex Tillerson, who served as Exxon chief executive officer and U.S. Secretary of State…

The lawsuit claimed Exxon falsely told investors it had properly evaluated the impact of future climate regulations on its business using a “proxy cost” of up to $80 per ton of carbon emissions, but internally used figures as low as $40 per ton or none at all…

Theodore Wells, a lawyer for Exxon, said that after Tillerson became chief executive in 2006, the company put in place a “robust system” to manage the risk of increasing climate change…

Wells also accused former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of bringing the case for political reasons.…

Massachusetts is separately investigating whether Exxon concealed its knowledge of the role fossil fuels play in climate change.

…. [They] began investigation Exxon after news reports in 2015 saying company scientists had determined that fossil fuel combustion must be reduced to mitigate the impact of climate change.

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