Exxon Mobil wins climate change lawsuit in New York

The case was the first of several climate change lawsuits against major oil companies to go to trial.

Former Exxon CEO And Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson Testifies In Court
Rex Tillerson, former chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp, departs from state court in New York after testifying in a securities-fraud trial over the oil giant's climate-change disclosures [File: Peter Foley/Bloomberg]

A judge on Tuesday ruled in favour of Exxon Mobil Corp in a lawsuit brought by New York state accusing the oil company of hiding from investors the true cost of addressing climate change.

Justice Barry Ostrager in Manhattan Supreme Court ruled that the state attorney general failed to produce any evidence that investors were misled. The case, filed in October 2018, was the first of several climate change lawsuits against leading oil companies to go to trial.

The lawsuit by the office of New York State Attorney General Letitia James said that Exxon Mobil caused investors to lose up to $1.6bn by falsely telling them it had properly evaluated the impact of future climate regulations on its business.

The lawsuit said the company told investors it was projecting the impact of future regulations by using a “proxy cost” of up to $80 per tonne of carbon emissions in wealthy countries by 2040, but internally used figures as low as $40 per tonne or none at all.

Exxon Mobil countered that the proxy cost and the internal greenhouse gas costs were distinct and used for different purposes.

Ostrager wrote in Tuesday’s decision that the evidence supported the company’s argument that the two types of projected costs were “different metrics”.

“What the evidence at trial revealed is that Exxon Mobil executives and employees were uniformly committed to rigorously discharging their duties in the most comprehensive and meticulous manner possible,” the judge wrote.

The attorney general’s office had no immediate comment.

“Today’s ruling affirms the position Exxon Mobil has held throughout the New York attorney general’s baseless investigation,” company spokesman Casey Norton said in a statement. “We provided our investors with accurate information on the risks of climate change.”

The trial featured testimony from investors, experts, and former Exxon Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson, who denied the allegations against the company.