Minnesota Sues Exxon, Koch Over Climate Change

Source: By Christopher M. Matthews, Wall Street Journal • Posted: Thursday, June 25, 2020

Lawsuit is latest targeting oil industry over global warming, efforts that have been unsuccessful so far

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison says energy companies have deceived the public about climate change. Photo: Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune/Associated Press

The Minnesota attorney general sued Exxon Mobil Corp., Koch Industries and a top oil-and-gas trade group Wednesday, alleging they have for years deceived consumers about the effects of climate change.

Attorney General Keith Ellison said Exxon, three Koch companies and the American Petroleum Institute deceived the public about climate-change science to protect their business interests and, in doing so, violated Minnesota laws that prohibit consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices and false advertising.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction barring further violations, financial restitution for alleged damages to Minnesotans and an order requiring the entities to fund a public-education campaign on climate change. Mr. Ellison said the penalties could amount to billions of dollars.

“This lawsuit is part of a coordinated, politically motivated campaign against energy companies,” Exxon spokesman Casey Norton said. “The claims are baseless and without merit. We look forward to defending the company in court.”

A spokeswoman for API, one of the industry’s largest trade groups, also denied the allegations. A spokeswoman for Flint Hills Resources, a Koch subsidiary, said it is reviewing the lawsuit.

The suit is the latest targeting the oil industry over its contribution to global warming and alleged deception about the accuracy of climate-change science. Minnesota joins more than a dozen states, cities and municipalities that have sued energy companies on similar grounds.

The industry has fiercely contested the lawsuits, which have so far not resulted in any verdicts against oil and gas companies.

In December, a New York state judge cleared Exxon of fraud claims, saying New York’s attorney general had failed to establish that the oil giant had deceived investors about how it accounted for the cost of future climate-change regulation. The verdict capped a nearly three-week civil trial between the state and Exxon, which had spent several years fighting the case.

A pair of climate-change-related lawsuits in California may be headed for trial after the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments by energy companies in May, ruling that state courts are the proper forum for the suits. The cases, brought by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco, had previously been dismissed by a federal judge, who was overturned by the appeals court. The defendants in those cases—Exxon, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, BP PLC, and Royal Dutch Shell PLC —are expected to appeal.

In the Minnesota lawsuit, the attorney general alleged internal climate experts at the companies issued warnings to executives about global warming for years as the companies simultaneously financed public relations campaigns that misled the public about the risks of climate change.

“The fraud, deceptive advertising and other violations of Minnesota state law and common law that the lawsuit shows they perpetrated have harmed Minnesotans’ health and our state’s environment, infrastructure, and economy,” Mr. Ellison said in a statement.

Write to Christopher M. Matthews at christopher.matthews@wsj.com