Exxon Climate Judge Orders ‘Unprecedented’ Questioning

  • New York, Massachusetts are drawn into suit about probes
  • Judge says Maura Healey, Eric Schneiderman must appear

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas is giving Exxon Mobil Corp. an unprecedented chance to question a state law-enforcement officer who is investigating whether the energy company hid damaging data about climate change from investors.

U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade in Dallas on Thursday ordered Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to appear in the city on Dec. 13 to face questions from Exxon lawyers. The company claims her probe into the company’s public statements about global warming is politically motivated.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is running a parallel investigation into Exxon, was added to the company’s lawsuit last week. He’s fighting to avoid being deposed, but was "advised" by the judge to appear in Dallas on the same date.

Douglas Gansler, the attorney general of Maryland from 2007 to 2015, said he’s never heard of an instance where a company under investigation by a state sues and wins permission to question law-enforcement officers.

"Not only is it unusual, it’s unprecedented," Gansler, a Democrat who isn’t involved in the litigation, said in an interview. "It’s completely inconsistent with the law and the functioning of our government."

Company Information

Massachusetts, New York and other states are investigating whether Irving, Texas-based Exxon violated securities laws and consumer-protection rules by withholding from investors information allegedly obtained as early as the 1970s that man-made emissions were changing the climate and may impact its businesses. The states are also looking into whether Exxon has properly accounted for its oil-and-gas reserves following a global drop in prices.

Exxon has denied the allegations, saying the valuation of its assets meets all legal standards. The company has denied wrongdoing in the case.

"We have no choice but to defend ourselves against politically motivated investigations that are biased, in bad faith and without legal merit." said Alan Jeffers, an Exxon’s spokesman. "We did not start this, but we will see it through and will vigorously defend ourselves against false allegations and mischaracterizations of our climate research and investor communications."

Brad Campbell, president of the Conservation Law Foundation, called the ruling a “windfall to lawbreakers.”

Drug Lords, Mobsters

“For the first and only time, a federal judge is forcing the chief law enforcement official of a state to disclose sensitive sources and methods before even being allowed to gather evidence,” Campbell said in an e-mailed statement. “Drug lords and mobsters will use this ruling as a new shield against investigation and prosecution.”

Schneiderman filed his own lawsuit against Exxon in state court in New York, saying the company has failed to comply with a demand for records about the impact of climate change on the valuation of its assets. The state’s top cop claims Exxon is likely delaying in the hope that it’ll succeed in the Texas case before the company is forced to hand over the documents.

"We will respond appropriately," Schneiderman spokesman Eric Soufer said without elaborating.

Healey has argued that Texas doesn’t have jurisdiction in the matter and is awaiting a ruling on a request to dismiss Exxon’s suit.

"We continue to litigate against Exxon in Massachusetts state court, where this dispute properly belongs, and will fight aggressively to investigate whether Exxon Mobil deceived consumers and investors about the impact of fossil fuels," Healey’s spokeswoman, Chloe Gotsis, said in a statement.

The case is Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Healey, 16-cv-00469, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Fort Worth).

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