Former Vice President Al Gore and New York Attorney General (AG) Eric Schneiderman are leading a coalition of states, cities and counties that will push for lower emissions by the oil and natural gas industry, in part to defend President Obama’s top initiative to combat climate change.
The AGs United for Clean Power group mostly is composed of the top lawyers for states that support the administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and large industrial facilities.
The 25 states, cities and counties initially in the coalition want to limit “climate change pollution,” but they also are pressing for federal controls on methane emissions, Schneiderman said during a press briefing Tuesday.
“With gridlock and dysfunction gripping Washington, it is up to the states to lead on the generation-defining issue of climate change,” Schneiderman said “Our offices are seriously examining the potential of working together on high-impact, state-level initiatives, such as investigations into whether fossil fuel companies have misled investors about how climate change impacts their investments and business decisions.”
Schneiderman was joined at the briefing in New York City by AGs William Sorrell of Vermont, George Jepsen of Connecticut, Brian E. Frosh of Maryland and Mark Herring of Virginia, as well as staff from AG offices in California, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Washington and Washington, DC.
“We have heard the scientists, and we have heard what is happening to the planet,” Schneiderman said. “Every fossil fuel company has a responsibility to be honest with its investors.”
All of the members of the new coalition have intervened to defend legal challenges to the CPP. On Tuesday the interveners filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to move the CPP forward because they said it provides states and power plants flexibility to decide how best to achieve emission reductions. The U.S. Supreme Court in February temporarily blocked implementation of the CPP until all legal challenges had been resolved (see Daily GPI, Feb. 10; Jan. 22).
The “first-of-its-kind coalition...is another key step on the path to a sustainable, clean-energy future,” Gore said. “What these attorneys general are doing is extremely important.” He compared the fight against emissions by fossil fuel companies to that of tobacco companies, which were defeated in the 1990s after they were found to have issued misstatements about the impact of cigarette smoking on cancer and heart disease.
“These brave members of this coalition are doing their job like they did in the tobacco case,” Gore said. “We cannot continue to allow the fossil fuel industry or any industry to treat our atmosphere like an open sewer or mislead the public about the impact they have on the health of our people and the health of our planet. Attorneys general and law enforcement officials around the country have long held a vital role in ensuring that the progress we have made to solve the climate crisis is not only protected, but advanced.”
The coalition plans to include ongoing and potential investigations into whether fossil fuel companies misled investors and the public on the impact of climate change on their businesses.
Last year New York reached a historic settlement to require Peabody Energy, the largest publicly traded coal company, to revise its financial statements and disclosures regarding emissions.
Schneiderman is investigating allegations that leading natural gas producer ExxonMobil Corp. misled investors, and has subpoenaed documents dating to the 1970s (see Daily GPI, Nov. 6, 2015).
ExxonMobil has included since 2007 information about the business risks of climate change in its annual Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) 10-K filings, corporate citizenship reports and other documents. However, both ExxonMobil and Chevron Corp. have lost requests to the SEC to block separate shareholder resolutions that would require them to disclose climate change policies (see Daily GPI, March 24).
Although the coalition is not specifically connected to Schneiderman’s investigation, he said Massachusetts has joined the ExxonMobil probe with California and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"We are pursuing this as we would any other fraud matter,” Schneiderman said of the ExxonMobil probe. “You have to tell the truth.” From President Obama “on down is under a relentless assault from well-funded, highly aggressive and morally vacant forces that are trying to block every step by the federal government to take meaningful action."
Gore said “years from now,” the coalition’s efforts today “may well be looked back upon as a real turning point in the effort to hold to account those commercial interests that have been -- according to the best available evidence -- deceiving the American people, communicating in a fraudulent way."
Several conservation groups, including 350.org and the Center for International Environmental Law, also have launched a website to pursue investigations of producers’ knowledge of climate change impacts from their operations.
"The Exxon revelations may turn out to be the largest corporate scandal in history," said 350.org Executive Director May Boeve. "We'll be looking for the Department of Justice and many more state attorneys general to follow New York's lead and launch their own investigations."
The allegations leveled again on Tuesday against ExxonMobil “are politically motivated and based on discredited reporting funded by activist organizations,” spokeswoman Suzanne McCarron said. “We are actively assessing all legal options.”
The allegations, McCarron said, “are based on the false premise that ExxonMobil reached definitive conclusions about anthropogenic climate change before the world's experts and before the science itself had matured, and then withheld it from the broader scientific community.
“Such a claim is preposterous. It assumes that the expertise of a handful of Exxon scientists somehow exceeded the accumulated knowledge of the global scientific community at the time, and that the Exxon scientists somehow were able to reach definitive conclusions before the science had developed.”
ExxonMobil deliberations years ago “yielded no definitive conclusions,” she added. “As our scientists determined at the time, many important questions about climate science remained unanswered, and more research was required. Accordingly, Exxon, and later ExxonMobil, continued research at leading universities, and also engaged in the public debate surrounding policy responses to the emerging science.”
The repeated allegations “are an attempt to limit free speech and are the antithesis of scientific inquiry,” McCarron said. “Left unchallenged, they could stifle the search for solutions to the real risks from climate change. ExxonMobil recognizes the risks posed by climate change, and we believe that everyone should be engaged in meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”