The Massachusetts high court has ruled that the US’s largest oil company, ExxonMobil, must face trial over accusations that it lied about the climate crisis and covered up the fossil fuel industry’s role in worsening environmental devastation - and should be forced to help pick up the tab for remedial action, not taxpayers.
The state’s supreme judicial court unanimously dismissed the claim in the latest blow to the oil industry’s attempts to head off a wave of lawsuits across the country over its part in causing global heating. The lawsuit accuses Exxon of a decades-long cover-up of what it knew about the impact on the climate of burning fossil fuels. The state also says the company deceived investors about the risks to its business posed by global heating.
Last week, the oil industry suffered another defeat when a federal appeals court ruled that a lawsuit by Rhode Island against 21 fossil fuel companies, including Exxon, BP and Shell, can go ahead in state court. Fossil fuel companies are trying to move cases into what they regard as the more friendly forum of federal courts.
Among other things, state systems often permit a much broader discovery process, which could force Exxon and other companies to hand over highly embarrassing documents revealing what they knew about the climate crisis and when, and how they responded.
At least 10 other federal courts across the country have rejected the industry’s attempts to get similar cases out of the state systems. The industry also tried and failed in Hawaii. Honolulu’s lawsuit alleges that the oil giants “engaged in a coordinated, multi-front effort” to deny the threat posed by global heating, to discredit the science of climate change, and to deceive the public “about the reality and consequences of the impacts of their fossil fuel pollution”.
The chair of Honolulu city council, Tommy Waters, called it a “big and important win”.
“We are facing incredible costs to move critical infrastructure away from our coasts and out of flood zones, and the oil companies that deceived the public for decades should be the ones helping pick up the tab for those costs, not our taxpayers,” he said. “The reason these companies are fighting so hard to block this case is they don’t want even more evidence to come out. This is just like big tobacco, when they tried to take advantage of the public.”