Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced Wednesday that he is suing ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and the American Petroleum Institute because the three firms cheated customers on the climate crisis. This is the first such lawsuit to name API and Koch Industries, and it takes a novel approach by suing them solely for the lies they told.
the consumer fraud lawsuit it alleges that the companies engaged in a decades-long “hoax campaign”, hiding the fact that they understood as early as the 1950s that oil and gas production contributes to climate collapse and still chose to mine, market and sell the fuels. It includes fraud claims, lack of warning, and violations of Minnesota consumer fraud statutes, deceptive business practices, and false advertising statements. In return, he demands that Minnesotans be compensated for their losses and that defendants fund a public education campaign on the dangers of climate change.
“We are suing these defendants, API, ExxonMobil and Koch, for hiding the truth, confusing the facts, and confusing water with devastating effects,” Ellison said at a press conference.
This is not the first time that a town has sued large oil companies. There are currently 14 lawsuits in progress across the United States with the goal of holding fossil fuel companies and their government allies accountable for climate damage, some of which also rely on knowledge of decades-long campaign distort climate science and mislead the public about the dangers of using oil and gas.
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But while other demands have ExxonMobil Directed And other major oil producers, Ellison’s groundbreaking demand targets not only polluting companies but also fossil fuel lobbyists that have also misled consumers. The multinational Koch Industries produces fossil fuel products; in fact, it has a great Minnesota refinery which manufactures on 80% of gasoline used in the state, but is also heavily involved in lobbying for the interests of the fossil fuel industry. And API is the largest trade association in the United States for oil and natural gas companies. Appointing these representatives, rather than just the fossil fuel producers themselves, states that they also played a role in the deception.
“This case is historic because it indicates the intention to hold the actors who have knowingly fueled the climate crisis more accountable,” Sr Accountability Campaign Manager at Corporate Accountability told Earther Sr in an email. “For decades, these two entities have been some of the most effective at manipulating policymaking behind closed doors: Koch Industries acting on behalf of its expanding empire and API on behalf of its fossil fuel members.”
The lawsuit also differs from all of the previous ones against Big Oil in another crucial way. It is the first that depends only on whether or not the companies misled the public rather than previous cases focused on defrauding investors, the damage caused by climate change and other problems.
“It is essentially a strictly lie case,” Richard Wiles, executive director of the legal advocacy group Center for Climate Integrity, told Earther. “Literally, the guts of the case are that the defendants committed fraud against the citizens of Minnesota.”
Unlike other lawsuits about this disinformation campaign, to succeed, Ellison would not have to demonstrate that the campaign was responsible for environmental degradation.
“Really all the attorney general has to do is show that there was, in fact, a coordinated disinformation campaign,” Wiles said. “They don’t have to show that no one acted on the misinformation, they don’t have to show that the misinformation caused certain impacts or damage, they just have to show that it happened.”
Other climate demands have raised the political questions of who can be held responsible for climate change and who should pay for it. Even some of the 100 companies they are responsible for over 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions have been release the hook in court, with judges who claim they cannot be held responsible for a massive global problem. But Minnesota’s lawsuit takes a different approach, and that distinction may make it easier to win.
If the state wins, the lawsuit could lead to significant damages and fines. The lawsuit requires companies to “record all profits,” meaning that the three defendants would have to give up any money they got as a result of their illegal conduct. It could end up being a large sum of money.
“I don’t even know how they would calculate that, but you could imagine that it would include all of the profits made from the sales of their products in the state of Minnesota during the time the state citizens’ fraud was committed,” Wiles said. In other words, they could be forced to lose all the money they got from oil and gas in Minnesota since the 1950s.
The Minnesota lawsuit could also compel Exxon, API, and Koch Industries to turn over decades of documents that could provide evidence about their attacks on climate science and public deception about the climate crisis. This discovery process could “give a deeper insight into how these corporations have consistently worked to mislead the public about the truth about climate change,” said Madhusoodanan. The Massachusetts case against ExxonMobil who went to the Supreme Court last year almost forced the oil giant to do it, although the company eventually emerged unscathed.
The case also poses serious reputational risks for ExxonMobil, API, and Koch Industries. By undermining their credibility and exposing them as liars, the case could make it difficult for them to reasonably demand a role in shaping climate policy.
“The opioid industry is not seen to be on the table when we are writing a health care policy. Big Tobacco is not on the table when we are writing a health policy, “said Wiles.
Although it is well documented that Exxon, APIand Koch Industries Spending decades lying to customers and shareholders, this suit probably won’t be child’s play. All three defendants have unlimited capital to spend to defeat him in court. But if Minnesota prevails, it could seriously erode the moral authority of companies.
“That’s the last thing they want,” said Wiles.