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New York probes Exxon Mobil over climate science

November 6, 2015

US oil giant Exxon Mobil is under investigation by New York state over whether it lied to the public about the risks of climate change. State Attorney General's subpoena demands records back to 1977.

Junger Eisbär
Image: Shawn Harper

A source familiar with the New York prosecutor's office said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman suspects ExxonMobil has been intentionally downplaying the risks of climate change for decades.

The state attorney general's subpoena demands documents dating back to 1977 on Exxon Mobil's climate science, its marketing and advertising materials that discuss climate change and its funding of climate science inside and outside the Houston-based corporation.

Company executives reject any allegations that it suppressed research.

"Exxon Mobil recognizes that climate risks are real and responsible actions are warranted," Vice President Ken Cohen told reporters in a conference call late Thursday.

He defended the company's position when it successfully fought against the US enactment of the Kyoto Protocol two decades ago. Part of its campaign at the time questioned climate science.

"We felt the science needed further development to take such a step that would have handicapped the US" compared with other countries that would not have been required to cut emissions, Cohen said.

Company spokesman Scott Silvestri cited "Exxon Mobil'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."

The state investigation follows several high-profile investigations published in the "Los Angeles Times" and "Inside Climate News" that revealed that as far back as the 1970s, the oil company's own scientists had recognized climate change as a grave problem caused by burning fossil fuels.

That information was buried, downplayed or distorted despite its effects on consumers and the company's investors, the reports allege.

Green groups applaud action

The New York state attorney general has authority under the state's Martin Act to investigate and prosecute securities fraud.

Greenpeace, which has been pressuring Washington to open a federal investigation, applauded New York's move as an effort "to further expose the hypocrisy of fossil fuel companies like Exxon Mobil and hold them accountable for denying climate change to the public and blocking necessary action for decades."

Critics of the oil giant have likened Exxon's conduct to that of tobacco companies that suppressed evidence for decades that linked cigarettes and other tobacco products to deadly cancers.

jar/sms (AFP, AP, dpa)