August hasn’t gone so well for #ExxonKnew activists. If the New York Times Magazine’s stunning debunk of their entire campaign wasn’t enough, a coalition of 12 attorneys general filed a brief supporting ExxonMobil in its lawsuit against the attorneys general of Massachusetts and New York, who are investigating the company over its communications on climate change. To top it all off, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently announced that after examining 4.2 million Exxon documents it is halting its investigation of ExxonMobil’s climate financial disclosures.
In a letter, the SEC director Shamoil Shipchandler explained that “[b]ased on the information we have as of this date, we do not intend to recommend an enforcement action by the Commission against Exxon.” As Benjamin Hulac of E&E News put it, the “closure of the SEC probe marks a significant victory for the company.”
This news certainly doesn’t bode well for the New York and Massachusetts AG #ExxonKnew investigations, which have been floundering for over two and half years now. The attorneys general have looked at so many documents that if stacked, they would stand taller than the Empire State building. They have tried to push four different theories of wrongdoing after each previous one fell completely flat, and yet, there have been zero changes to date.
It’s worth remembering that these #ExxonKnew investigations were supposed to be replicated across their entire AGs for Clean Power coalition, but the other 18 AGs in the group quickly ran for the exits, leaving only Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman standing – but after Schneiderman had to resign over allegations of sexual abuse, New Attorney General Barbara Underwood has inherited this mess.
With their investigations in shambles, #ExxonKnew activist decided to give public nuisance lawsuits a try, but those haven’t gone so well either. Lawsuits by San Francisco and Oakland, which accused Chevron, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, BP and Royal Dutch Shell of “knowing” about climate change but still promoting fossil fuels, were thrown out in June by U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who noted the “huge benefits” of fossil fuels, adding, “If we didn’t have fossil fuels, we would have lost that war (World War II) and every other war.” He continued, “Planes wouldn’t fly. Trains wouldn’t run. And we’d be back in the Stone Age.”
Not long after that, U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan threw out New York City’s lawsuit against five energy companies noting in his opinion that “Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government,” not the judiciary, according to Bloomberg.
The SEC dropping its investigation is just the latest in a long series of disappointments for #ExxonKnew activists, as their true motivations – political rather than legal – become increasingly obvious. As momentum shifts against the activists, the AGs of New York and Massachusetts may also find it increasingly difficult to justify their continued campaign of harassment.