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Exxon Taking Massachusetts Climate Case to SCOTUS

By George Khoury, Esq. on September 11, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In recent years, big oil has faced increasing pressure from state and local governments due to potential violations of environmental laws and due to the increasing visibility of climate change.

Massachusetts has been pursuing an investigation against Exxon since 2016. Unfortunately for the state's AG, Exxon isn't being cooperative. And after the state secured a victory before the State's Supreme Court demanding the oil company respond to the state's investigatory demand, Exxon recently petitioned SCOTUS, seeking review of the state High Court decision.

What's This Case About?

In short, this is a climate change case against Exxon being brought under Massachusetts state law. However, the legal thrust of the case involves state consumer protection laws, and whether Massachusetts consumers were misled by Exxon's representations in marketing and selling gas.

The burning questions that the Mass. AG has involves not just what, but also when, exactly, the company learned about the potential for climate change, and what it told the public after discovering the conclusive link between fossil fuel emissions and climate change.

Will SCOTUS Get Involved?

Multiple courts have already ruled that Exxon cannot get out from under the investigative demand. The state courts have explicitly recognized that the state AG has the authority to start an investigation if they believe unlawful conduct is afoot.

However, Exxon sees things differently, and is hoping SCOTUS will too. Apart from trying to play the role of innocent victim of climate change activism, it asserts that it does not own, nor operate, any businesses in the state, but rather, only licenses out its brand to the 300-plus service stations in the state. Additionally, it maintains that the investigative journalism pieces that claimed it knew about, and mislead the public, concerning the risks of climate change, are false (and the impetus for the investigatory demand).

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