Bloomberg Law
Jan. 9, 2018, 9:14 PM

Exxon Seeks to Depose Officials Bringing Climate Change Suits

Bloomberg Law - Staff Reports

By Peter Hayes

Exxon Mobil is alleging that climate change claims by several California municipalities are inconsistent with statements they made to investors in their bond offerings.

The company asked a Texas trial court Jan. 8 to order pre-suit discovery “to determine whether legal action is warranted,” arguing that the municipalities are “abusing law enforcement authority and legal process to impose their viewpoint on climate change.”

The filing is the latest salvo in climate change public nuisance litigation, which observers say is likely to expand beyond California.

In the underlying suits filed in California, the counties of Marin and San Mateo, and the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and Imperial Beach allege that emissions from Exxon Mobil, BP PLC, Chevron, and several other energy producers threaten their communities with sea level rise, and constitute a public nuisance.

The Exxon Mobil filing seeks to depose the public officials and attorneys involved in the California suits.

The company argues that the municipalities claims of sea level rise are inconsistent with their statements to investors.

“Notwithstanding their claims of imminent, allegedly near-certain harm, none of the municipalities disclosed to investors such risks in their respective bond offerings,” the petition said.

The company claims that the cities and counties are “attempting to stifle Exxon Mobil’s exercise, in Texas, of its First Amendment right to participate in the national dialogue about climate change and climate policy.” Michael Burger, a professor and director of the Sabin Law Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School in New York, was critical of the filing.

“There is little question that the underlying claims are legitimate and there is nothing frivolous or sanctionable about bringing them,” Burger told Bloomberg Law.

“This is consistent with other legal measures taken by Exxon Mobil and other companies to push back against state officials pursuing climate action in the courts,” Burger said.

“One might construe this as a way to harass the officials bringing suit,” he said.

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP, Cantey Hanger LLP and Haynes & Boone LLP represent Exxon Mobil.