Exxon Mobil Corp. encountered a major setback on Wednesday when a Massachusetts judge ordered the oil company to turn over 40 years of documents related to climate change.
The ruling represents a huge win for the state’s attorney general Maura Healey, who is investigating how much Exxon Mobil knew about the link between fossil fuels and climate change and if it intentionally hid such information from the public.
“Exxon must now end its obstructive tactics and come clean about whether it misled Massachusetts consumers and investors about what it knew about climate change, its causes and effects,” Healey said in a statement provided to The Boston Globe.
An Exxon Mobil spokesperson told the Globe it was reviewing the decision.
Healey began the probe last year alongside New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman after several outlets published major investigations alleging Exxon Mobil knew about climate change for decades and intentionally worked to sow doubt among the public.
The oil company retaliated with a lawsuit against Healey after she announced her investigation, claiming the attorney general was politically motivated and that she was acting outside her jurisdiction.
“[Healey and Schneiderman] are incapable of impartial investigations and are attempting to silence political opponents who disagree on the appropriate policies to address climate change,” the company said in October, according to The Associated Press.
That case, based in Texas, is still pending.
... it’s good to see that the courts may yet hold Exxon responsible for the damage it’s done to this planet and to our democracy. 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben
The Massachusetts ruling was particularly timely because it occurred on the same day former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson refused to say during the first day of his confirmation hearing to become secretary of state whether the company knew about the climate phenomenon.
“Since I’m no longer with Exxon Mobil, I can’t speak on their behalf,” said Tillerson, who worked at the oil giant for 41 years and retired in December. “The question would have to be put to Exxon Mobil.”
“Do you lack knowledge to answer my questions or are you refusing to answer my question?” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) asked.
“A little of both,” Tillerson replied.
But despite the former CEO’s maneuvering, environmentalists hailed Wednesday’s legal ruling and the timing of the decision.
“Rex Tillerson may be trying to make his getaway, but it’s good to see that the courts may yet hold Exxon responsible for the damage it’s done to this planet and to our democracy,” 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben said in a statement.
“This is a huge victory for democracy and uncovering the truth about Exxon’s decades of deception and with Rex Tillerson poised to be the next U.S. Secretary of State, the timing couldn’t be better,” said Tamar Lawrence-Samuel, policy director for the watchdog group Corporate Accountability International, in a statement.