Picture: REUTERS/JESSICA RINALDI
Picture: REUTERS/JESSICA RINALDI

New York — New York will not appeal against a ruling by a judge who rejected the state’s claim that ExxonMobil misled investors for years about the oil company’s internal planning for risks associated with climate change.

New York attorney-general Letitia James, a Democrat who took office after the suit was filed, announced the decision late on Friday without giving a reason. James nevertheless hailed the trial in state court as a landmark — “the first time in history” Exxon was forced to answer publicly for its messaging around climate change.

“As we have done for the last year, my office will continue to fight to ensure companies are held responsible for actions that undermine and jeopardise the financial health and safety of Americans across our country,” James said.

Exxon has never taken the economic impact of climate change on its business seriously, “and that truth was laid bare at trial”, she said.

James’s defiance belies the decision by New York Supreme Court Justice Barry Ostrager, who rejected all the state’s claims.

In its securities fraud suit, filed in October 2018, New York accused Exxon of lying to shareholders about its use of a “proxy cost” for carbon in its internal accounting to prepare for future climate change regulations. That alleged lie suggested to the public that Exxon was being more prudent about climate risks than it really was, the state said.

Ostrager, in a 55-page ruling in December, said the attorney-general’s office “failed to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that ExxonMobil made any material misstatements or omissions about its practices and procedures that misled any reasonable investor”.

Texas-based Exxon previously accused New York of filing the lawsuit in a politically motivated attempt to target the company. That argument was bolstered on the final day of the trial when the state dropped its two most serious fraud claims against the company after failing to back them up with any evidence during the trial.

On Friday, a non-profit energy industry organisation filed a motion to intervene in the case in an effort to unseal communications between the attorney-general’s office and a plaintiffs lawyer who is involved in various lawsuits against the energy industry.

Energy Policy Advocates, based in Washington state, said in its filing that the lawyer, Matt Pawa, shopped around anti-Exxon litigation strategies in pitches to various attorney-general offices, including Massachusetts, which has also sued Exxon.

“Documents filed in this matter will shed light on the important debate about the propriety of the New York attorney-general’s actions in this matter,” the group said in its filing. “Regardless, they will show how such costly if failed litigation came to pass, or at least key influences.”

Bloomberg

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