Connecticut is suing
Attorney General William Tong (D) announced the lawsuit Monday, accusing the oil giant of violating the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act by misleading the public about how fossil fuels drive global temperature rise.
What started as a smattering of test cases against Big Oil has ballooned into a nationwide movement, with nearly two dozen state and local governments pursuing claims so far.
“Undertaking to pursue the big fossil fuel companies and to hold them accountable for climate change is an incredibly big and daunting undertaking, but I knew that’s where we had to go,” Tong told Bloomberg Law ahead of Monday’s filing.
The case, in Connecticut Superior Court in Hartford, is the fourth climate-focused lawsuit launched by a state or local government in the past two weeks, following filings from Delaware, Hoboken, N.J., and Charleston, S.C.
‘You’ve Got to Do More’
Exxon criticized the legal attack as a waste of taxpayer money that doesn’t “advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change.”
“The claims are baseless and without merit,” the company said in a statement it has released repeatedly in response to various climate lawsuits. “We look forward to defending the company in court.”
Tong dismissed the argument as disingenuous, saying if Exxon were serious, it would make an offer to fund restitution, remediation, education programs, and other remedies the lawsuit seeks.
“If they’re ready to do that, I’ll go to them,” he said. “I’ll put my mask on, get on a plane, and we’ll sit in a conference room for as long as it takes to negotiate that settlement.”
For Tong, the focus on climate change is personal. In addition to dealing with the local impacts of extreme weather, including the recent Hurricane Isaias, Tong said his three children are “keenly aware” of climate change and frequently urging him to take action.
“I hear about it all the time, like, ‘You’re not doing enough, ba. You’ve got to do more,’” he said, using the Chinese term for dad. “I don’t know if other parents get that, but I get it.”
Connecticut’s case zeroes in on Exxon and allegations of consumer fraud—unlike several other climate liability cases that name dozens of oil companies and raise an assortment of legal claims.
Internal records suggest the company understood the role of fossil fuels in driving climate change, and chose to bury that research and promote misinformation instead, the lawsuit says.
New York previously waged an unsuccessful securities law case against Exxon, and Massachusetts is currently pursuing a combination of securities and consumer protection claims against the company.
But Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act could prove to be a particularly power tool against Exxon. Without a statute of limitations, the law allows the attorney general’s office to target actions going back decades.
The industry-aligned Manufacturers’ Accountability Project panned the lawsuit as a political move.
“Regardless of how the lawsuits are packaged, making and selling us the energy we all need to be part of modern society is not a liability-inducing event,” special counsel Phil Goldberg said in a statement.
A Connecticut special assistant attorney general working on the case is funded through New York University’s State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. The center has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Law is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.
Causes of Action: Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Relief: Remediation, restitution, civil penalties, disgorgement of profits.
Response: Exxon criticized the lawsuit as a distraction from collaborative climate solutions.
Attorneys: The Connecticut attorney general’s office is representing the state.
The case is Connecticut v. Exxon Mobil Corp., Conn. Super. Ct., not yet docketed, 9/14/20.