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Companies Behaving Badly Part 2: Major U.S. Oil Companies Deny Climate Change

Yesterday, we began a week long feature on our blog about major companies and organizations that engaged in poor corporate conduct. The list of these companies and their bad deeds are courtesy of the American Association for Justice (AAJ), a group committed to preserving Americans right to a trial by jury. The list, officially titled “Worst Corporate Conduct of 2018” can be found here.

Today, we’re focusing on the oil industry and major U.S. players who have denied any knowledge of their role in climate change, despite evidence proving otherwise. These 5 oil behemoths, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell were also co-defendants in a lawsuit filed by the City of New York. Read below to find out what, exactly, landed them on the bad businesses list.

New York City Wants Big Oil to Pay
Last January, the city of New York filed a lawsuit against the 5 largest oil manufacturers, alleging their direct role in advancing global warming. Among other things, the lawsuit asked for money to go to preserving and protecting some of the city’s natural and manmade infrastructure that has been impacted by greenhouse gas emissions.

The complaint filed says that BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell together are responsible for more than 11 percent of all carbon dioxide and methane emissions. They also cited Shell’s knowledge of their output of extreme pollution levels and their role in driving climate change as far back as the 1980s, despite never publicly addressing it. Internal Shell and Exxon memos have been uncovered that describe the direct impact their oil manufacturing would play on the environment, with Shell scientists describing how burning fossil fuels and cutting down trees would “create significant changes in sea level, ocean currents, precipitation patterns, regional temperature and weather.”

AAJ points out that Exxon has perhaps been most active in shielding their business from pointed fingers regarding their role in climate change. The company is said to have spent millions of dollars on lobbying and other publicly visible efforts to prove that climate change is “not a thing.” Exxon played a part in founding the now-defunct Global Climate Coalition, a group that spent 13 years trying to disprove the existence of global warming and spent countless dollars fighting back against any push to reduce greenhouse gases.

Judge Rules Lawsuit Should be Government’s Responsibility
In October 2018, John F. Keenan, U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of New York,  dismissed New York City’s lawsuit against the 5 oil companies. Not because it was without merit, but because it seeks to address issues that involve emissions that cross city limits and state boundaries. Meaning, this isn’t just New York City’s cross to bear or war to fight.

Judge Keenan wrote that the Executive Branch of government should be the ones taking up the issue and offering a “uniform, national solution.” Judge Keenan also writes   “Climate change is a fact of life, as is not contested by Defendants. But the serious problems caused thereby are not for the judiciary to ameliorate.”

How’s that for a twist? Now the defendants don’t deny the fact of climate change? Even though they spent millions in the last 30 years saying it wasn’t a fact, that they certainly had no role in this “fake” catastrophe?


Exxon Now Spending Hundreds of Millions to Protect the Environment
Deny and defend, the frequently used legal expression, is true for any business in any industry. Despite spending so much time and money defending themselves, the same month that Judge Keenan tossed NYC’s lawsuit, Exxon Mobil gave $1 million to Americans for Carbon Dividends. The group’s aim? To impose a tax on any business that releases greenhouse gases. As similar lawsuits against them were previously tossed out in other states, Exxon gave $100 million to the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, whose focus is reducing carbon emissions.

Here is the benefit of legal action now in plain sight. After so many years of holding evidence saying they were driving climate change and attempting to deny it, the threat of lawsuits has driven Exxon, at the very least, to start doing the right thing.


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