The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by ExxonMobil over Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s climate investigation of the company, effectively providing a green light for the AG to obtain records from the company and investigate whether it misled investors.
Although the decision was met with cheers from anti-energy activists, there’s little indication Healey will uncover anything new or noteworthy in her taxpayer-funded investigation, which mirrors similar probes by the New York Attorney General’s office.
NY’s Three-Year Head Start
The New York AG’s office spent over three years investigating ExxonMobil at taxpayer expense under a nearly identical premise to Healey’s.
During the probe, ExxonMobil produced over four million pages of documents and provided 18 witnesses for examination who collectively testified for nearly 200 hours. Despite all the evidence turned over by the company, the investigation failed to produce any smoking guns.
In fact, then-New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood only filed a lawsuit against the company after a judge gave her a deadline to stop burdening the company with document requests and either file a complaint or move on. As ExxonMobil’s lawyer put it, “They should put up or shut up.”
The Massachusetts Difference
Unlike Underwood and Eric Schneiderman before her, Healey lacks the authority granted to the New York Attorney General by the Martin Act, which provides the New York AG nearly unfettered access to company documents. ExxonMobil believed that without these broad powers, Healey lacked jurisdiction over the company, which does not own or operate any assets in the state of Massachusetts.
With the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today, Healey is now cleared to begin requesting and reviewing the same documents ExxonMobil has already turned over to New York – this time at the expense of Massachusetts taxpayers. It is not clear why Healey believes she will find anything different, even as she notes that her investigation mirrors New York’s:
“Exxon has yet to produce a single document in response to the Attorney General’s civil investigative demand, despite producing more than a million pages of documents in response to a similar request from the New York Attorney General.”
Healey’s goal, according to her counsel, is to force the company to include disclaimers in its advertising and at the pump that filling up your gas tank creates global warming.
Supreme Court Steers Clear of Controversy
This wasn’t the only environmental case SCOTUS declined to review today; the court also announced it would skirt cases on federal liability for Katrina flooding and wind turbine construction on Native American land. These decisions align with Chief Justice John Roberts’ recent hesitation to take up controversial cases following the hotly contested nomination of Justice Kavanaugh, in order to preserve the integrity of the court as an apolitical judiciary.