Getting to the point where climate change was recognized as an urgent, real problem took a lot of scientific research.
And some of the earliest scientists who came to this conclusion were based at oil and gas giant Exxon (now ExxonMobil). Exxon allegedly knew (or, for Twitter users #ExxonKnew) that climate change was a problem as far back as 1977, and yet for decades the company still publicly argued that the science wasn’t settled and supported politicians who backed up those denials.
Now, California Attorney General Kamala Harris is investigating the company for potential legal action, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman subpoenaed the company back in November as part of an ongoing investigation into whether ExxonMobil mislead the public about the risks of human-caused climate change and covered up its findings.
Exxon’s research was revealed by recent, separate investigations by the Los Angeles Times and InsideClimate News. Since then, Exxon has given millions to politicians and groups that deny climate science. The company itself has downplayed the scientific certainty of climate change.
Of course, it is not usually illegal for someone to say something untrue. (See: Speech, Freedom of). However, once you wade into financial territory, that right becomes somewhat curtailed. Companies are required to be straight with investors. And Exxon may have misled its investors about the financial risk presented by climate change, investigators say.
ExxonMobil disputes that characterization. “ExxonMobil has included information about the business risk of climate change for many years in our 10-K, Corporate Citizenship Report and in other reports to shareholders,” media relations manager Alan T. Jeffers said in an email to ThinkProgress.
“We reject allegations that ExxonMobil suppressed climate change research. This is an inaccurate distortion of ExxonMobil’s nearly 40-year history of climate research that was conducted publicly in conjunction with the Department of Energy, academics and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” Jeffers wrote.
The attorney general’s action comes just a week after the Los Angeles Democratic Party passed a resolution asking Harris to investigate.
Harris is currently running to take the seat of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), who is retiring at the end of the year.
“We commend AG Harris for her courageous decision to act on behalf of the people of the state of California,” Climate Hawks Vote co-founder RL Miller, who introduced the party resolution, said in an emailed statement. “We have confidence that California’s attorney general will bring to justice those who lied about [climate change’s] risks.”