In the first lawsuit of its kind, an environmental group is claiming that ExxonMobil Corp. not only is leaking pollution beyond its permit limits into Boston Harbor, but it alleges that the supermajor did not prepare the oil storage terminal for the impacts of climate change.
The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), a nonprofit dedicated to protecting New England's environment, warned that extreme weather -- the result of climate change -- could damage the Everett, MA, terminal and put the region at risk.
The 70-page complaint, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, alleges that ExxonMobil has failed to comply with its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit and the U.S. Clean Water Act at the Everett facility. The marine terminal in Boston Harbor is an oil transfer and storage facility.
"Because ExxonMobil has not taken climate change impacts into account in its stormwater pollution prevention plan, spill prevention, control and countermeasures plan, and facility response plan, CLF and its members are placed directly in harm's way and have no reasonable assurance that they will be protected from pollutants released and discharged from the Everett Terminal," the lawsuit said.
The civil lawsuit is part of a widening legal entanglement as ExxonMobil faces scrutiny by state attorneys general (AG) about its climate change research over decades, as well as a probe launched in August by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) about how it values its natural gas and oil reserves (see Daily GPI,Sept. 21). The SEC requests for information are said to mirror a probe led by New York AG Eric Schneiderman, who is spearheading two investigations, one on climate change research and the other on reserves reporting (see Daily GPI, Sept. 16).
According to CLF President Bradley Campbell, ExxonMobil has "devoted its resources to deceiving the public about climate science while using its knowledge about climate change to advance its business operations." It's time, he said, for ExxonMobil to "answer for decades of false statements to the public and to regulators and ensure that its Everett facility meets its legal obligation to protect thousands of people and the Boston Harbor estuary from toxic water pollution."
ExxonMobil called the lawsuit "yet another attempt to use the courts to promote a political agenda." The company said it has worked on climate science research with the U.S. Department of Energy and the United Nations, among others.
"To suggest that we had reached definitive conclusions, decades before the world's experts and while climate science was in an early stage of development, is not credible," ExxonMobil said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who chairs the House Science, Space and Technology committee, on Thursday chastised the SEC for its investigation. Committee members sparred two weeks ago about whether they have the legal authority to require Schneiderman and other state AGs to give them documents related to the probe; Smith is seeking jurisdiction (see Daily GPI, Sept. 14).
In the letter sent Thursday to SEC Chair Mary Jo White, Smith demanded documents and communications after Jan. 1, 2015 between SEC officers and employees, the Department of Justice and the White House relating to the decision to investigate ExxonMobil regarding "any" of its climate change-related financial disclosures. He also warned that the inquiries could hurt scientific research and development (R&D).
The House committee "is concerned that the SEC, by wielding its enforcement authority against companies like Exxon for its collection of and reliance on what is perhaps in the SEC's view inadequate climate data used to value its assets, advances a prescriptive climate change orthodoxy that may chill further climate change research throughout the public and private scientific R&D sector," Smith wrote.
"Specifically, the committee is concerned that an investigation into whether Exxon failed to comply with the climate change-related disclosure regulations for its oil reserves and other assets may be a disincentive to conducting scientific research that underlies and informs those asset valuations."
Smith gave the SEC until Oct. 13 to produce the swath of documents.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) responded to Smith's inquiry via twitter, accusing him of abusing his power. "Is there a hotline between ExxonMobil's legal department and the House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith?" Whitehouse asked. "The instant Exxon is faced with a new investigation over its climate mischief, Chairman Smith springs into action."