Last year, not long after the Los Angeles Times published a blockbuster investigation on what Exxon Mobil may have known about climate change as far back as the 1980s, a coalition of environmental groups wrote to Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and asked him to investigate Exxon "under all applicable state laws."
This year, state senator Marko Liias (D-Lynnwood) is attempting to nudge the issue forward with Ferguson's office. Earlier this month, Liias wrote a letter to Ferguson, asking the AG to investigate "whether Exxon Mobil Corp. committed securities fraud or violated environmental laws of Washington State by repeatedly lying to the public and shareholders about the effects of its business on climate change."
Both New York and California's attorneys general are investigating Exxon Mobil in response to the information that the LA Times, in conjunction with Columbia University, unveiled.
"It felt like if those offices are investigating, obviously our consumers here in Washington would have the same questions," Liias told me last week.
"If there is evidence that supports these claims [of fraud] I would hope that, just like with the tobacco industry, Washington would join with other states in investigating and take action jointly," Liias continued. "I think holding powerful companies accountable is always difficult to accomplish."
Exxon Mobil did not respond directly to Liias's call for a state investigation. But a company spokesperson did forward a general comment on the LA Times stories and Exxon's disclosures to its shareholders on climate change.*
"We reject allegations that ExxonMobil suppressed climate change research," part of the statement reads. "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."
When I first reached out to the AG's office about Liias's letter, I was told that the AG's office doesn't comment on non-public investigations, including whether those investigations even exist. In a follow up conversation, however, the office sent along a vague but intriguing statement from AG Ferguson:
I appreciate Senator Liias’s interest in this matter. In fact, I met with a coalition of stakeholders on this very issue last year, and we had a productive conversation. As I shared with that group at the time, while I don’t speak about ongoing investigations, including whether a particular one is underway, I can say that I have a strong interest in this issue.
Check out Ferguson's response to environmental groups last year here.
*Read Exxon's full statement below.
ExxonMobil believes the risk of climate change is clear and warrants action. We are taking action by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our operations, helping consumers reduce their emissions, supporting research and participating in constructive dialogue on policy options.
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.
We first included information in SEC filings about business risk related to climate change in 2007 and expanded in 2009 to include sections on “Climate change and greenhouse gas restrictions” and “Government sponsorship of alternative energy.”
Allegations by media and environmental activists about the company’s climate research are inaccurate and deliberately misleading.
Activists and media cherry-picked statements attributed to various company employees to wrongly suggest definitive conclusions were reached by company researchers at the early stages of scientific investigation of the potential for climate change. They ignored statements demonstrating that our researchers recognized the developing nature of climate science at the time, which mirrored global understanding.
To suggest that we had reached definitive conclusions, decades before the world’s experts and while climate science was in an early stage of development, is not credible.
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.