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Landmark climate trial turns on whether Exxon cooked the books


Last month, millions of people from all over the world gathered to protest what is considered a dangerous lack of vision in the country and industry in relation to global warming and the burning of fossil fuels that contribute to it.

The most important of these were companies that benefited from the sale of coal, oil and gas. In recent years, urban, state, and environmental groups in the United States have hoped to visit courts to punish these energy giants through litigation. In particular, management claimed that they questioned those who hid and alerted to the knowledge of humanity's role in climate change.

The main test of this strategy was a three-week trial in Manhattan, New York, Tuesday, & # 39; Exxon Mobil Corp. Environmentalists welcomed the event for the first time, but the label is accompanied by a warning. This trial will focus on something more ordinary, whether it has cooked a book on an internal financial plan that incorporates global warming costs, instead of taking responsibility for the planetary crisis in the footprint of oil companies.


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Narrow legal claims did not diminish the hopes of Exxon's detractors. Lindsay Meiman, spokesman for environmental group 350.org, which is planning a protest outside the courts, said: "You should not exaggerate the importance of litigation." "This highlights an important moment when people want to get big polluters to pay for destruction."

Four years after New York's first investigation, the problem became even more difficult. Since then, scientists have discovered that the earth is warming faster than expected and filled with sea level rise and unprecedented wildfires. The world's oceans, which hold most of the carbon dioxide emitted by humanity, are not only warming, flooding and deadly storms, but also acidification. Underwater food chains One half of the world's coral reefs are now dead, which is the seed of marine life important to humans.


The amount of money needed to slow climate change-billions of dollars that drastically change the way civilization works-is worth billions of dollars. The extra spending needed to adapt to the damage already suffered by society will total billions of dollars. Someone at the taxpayer or company or both must pay.

Please enter a lawyer.

Following New York's survey as a leader in the so-called #ExxonKnew battle at the end of 2015, according to reports from Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, scientists at Exxon discovered that artificial exhaust gas was damaged until 1977 by the climate and the company Covered. Exxon denied the claim.

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Attorney General Attorney General Eric Schneider Mann of New York at that time gained momentum when it launched its own survey in March 2016. Mora Healy, Mass., Joined Schneider Bay, USA. Climate crisis. In the speech, Schneidermann propagated the Exxon probe and suggested that others are on the horizon.

"It's up to the state to drive generation justice issues of climate change, as grid locks and dysfunctions hold Washington," he said. "Our office is seriously investigating the potential for collaboration on high-impact state initiatives, such as investigating whether fossil fuel companies misled investors about the impact of climate change on investment and business decisions."

Greenpeace then urged New York to “lead responsibility for exposing the hypocrisy of fossil fuel companies,” and other states urged to follow. But the wave of status probes never materialized, so New York and Massachusetts went it alone. And Schneider Man did not finish his investigation. He resigned in May 2018 on charges of abuse by several women. The trigger for Exxon was up to his successor.

Attorney General Barbara Underwood sued fossil fuel companies until last year's New York Attorney General Letitia James was elected. In the case, the state claimed that exon committed securities fraud by misleading investors on how Exxon explained the future financial impact of climate change on its business. New York argued that energy giants inflated long-term value and stock prices by curbing the risks from increased regulations and reduced fossil fuel demand.

Exxon, who dismissed the charges and denied denial, has long maintained the New York lawsuit in a politically motivated effort to demonize a billion-dollar company.

“The case is not about climate change, climate science or climate policy,” Exxon lawyer Theodore Wells said in a court report this month. “It doesn't matter if Exxon Mobil takes climate risk into account in our long term business plan. Exxon Mobil clearly takes this risk into account. ”

At the heart of this event is the use of Exxon, which uses carbon as the so-called proxy cost to use the greenhouse gas (GHG) metric to account for the climate tax associated with a particular project in annual calculations that predict global energy demand. . These figures have become a common way for fossil fuel companies to consolidate investors and regulators with the additional costs faced by long-term projects, and as potential energy sources fall in undeveloped reserves as alternative energy sources spread.

New York knows that Exxon's executives, including former Texas chief executive Rex Tillerson, have been out of public claims for years by using two proxy figures-individuals and individuals-based in Irving Texas, Texas. Claimed to be.

In short, New York told investors that the actual cost of climate change and related regulations was reflected in Exxon's financial plan when the company performed poorly.

New York said on October 7 that “Exxon Mobil had a higher projected carbon cost than what it actually used, having a significant impact on stock prices by making assets look much safer than they actually are. Court report. "In the meantime, Exxon Mobil has been scammed by investors."

According to the New York State Attorney General, the New York Attorney General according to the Department of Justice has lost at least $ 462 million in Exxon's shareholders, and up to $ 1.6 billion in damages when a fake representative of an oil company was exposed by a New York investigator. Claimed. filings.

The trial could lead to Tillerson's testimony, which was later dismissed as Secretary of State under President Donald Trump. He is on the list of witnesses on both sides.

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Exxon was against New York's claims. The company claims that agent costs and greenhouse gas costs are separate indicators with different internal purposes and have never been presented to investors in the way New York claims. In short, Exxon argues that New York has gathered the two figures to show the absence of discrepancies. It also claims that false numbers will only harm the company, not its shareholders, because the numbers are used to make internal investment decisions.

Wells said in a court report, "It's just Exxon Mobil itself if you mislead someone using an incorrect greenhouse gas cost assumption." "But Exxon Mobil had no reason to make a bad investment decision," Tillerson also denied any mistake.

New York is a potential landmark, but it's an outlier when it comes to the types of legal strategies used against the big oil. Increasingly, so-called annoying lawsuits are being filed against local energy companies to compensate taxpayers rather than shareholders. If they survive the effort to derail by the defendant, this lawsuit can actually lead to a wave of events that Schneiderman predicted. On Monday, Rhode Island joined an existing manuscript and joined with major oil companies, including Exxon, in a court of law in Providence on a bothersome theory.

An Carlson, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, has been consulting on the cities involved in such a lawsuit, claiming that energy companies are in the early stages of fighting to traditionally move the lawsuit to a federal place. More acceptance at the defendant company.

Carlson, unlike New York, pointed out that litigation is important for annoying litigation efforts because it can prove the pattern of annoying litigation and reveal the plaintiff's allegations.

"The more evidence that oil companies engage in misleading and deceptive actions about their own risks or the greater risks of climate change, the weaker the political position," she said. "It's easier to think about the tighter regulations in oil companies."

Janet Redman, head of climate campaigns at Greenpeace USA, said the New York example is "the tip of the iceberg" from a strategic standpoint.

"Coming out for trial this month in New York could be used by other prosecutors and potential manuscripts for Exxon Mobil," she said. "This is the first major climate event for Exxon Mobil but I have to go to trial but more people will come."

At the moment all points are in Manhattan courtroom where New York State Supreme Court Justice Barry Ostrager will preside over the non-judicial trial. For several years, the ruling, which delays the settlement of the case and prohibits settlement, is likely to be appealed.

James Fanto, a professor at the Brooklyn Law School, said that despite the current science, the lawsuit is not convinced that it is the best way to deal with Exxon's climate policy given the radical partisan nature of global warming.

"The political realm seems to be right about dealing with fossil fuels and the companies that sell them," Fanto said.

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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