Minnesota sues Exxon and Koch Industries for damages caused by climate change

The oil and gas industry was affected by another lawsuit when Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced this week that his office is suing two of the nation’s largest oil companies, and the oil industry trade group, for a “30-year hoax campaign” over the impacts of climate change.

At a press conference in Saint Paul, Ellison stated that Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute “knowingly led, conducted, and funded a campaign to mislead and defraud Minnesotans and Americans” about the effects of fossil fuels on the environment. State charges include fraud, lack of warning and false statements in advertising.

Minnesota follows at least 15 progressive cities and states, from San Francisco to Rhode Island, that have filed lawsuits against oil companies in the wake of a 2015 series by Indoor weather news, who uncovered internal Exxon documents showing the company understood the science of climate change and the severity of its consequences more than 30 years ago, but spent millions of dollars on a campaign to cast doubt on the science.

Using those documents, local governments have sued industry giants for fraud, and sought compensation for the damage of climate change in their communities. But the cases have not yet shown results. The oil and gas industry has responded with a litany of counterclaims and subpoenas that have tied many of the cases for years. And when a case is brought before a judge, several have decided that it is It is not a problem for the courts to decide. In Oakland, San Francisco, and New York City, the judges insisted that while the impacts of climate change are real, it was a problem that lawmakers, not our court system, addressed. “The problem deserves a solution on a broader scale than a district judge or jury can provide in a public nuisance case,” wrote United States District Court Judge William Alsup in 2018.

Minnesota’s lawsuit argues that over the past three decades, climate change and oil and gas development have had a measurable impact on the state, detailing costs such as the nearly $ 614 million spent on asthma treatment in 2014 and $ 165 million in flood disaster relief in 2007 – and seeks to recoup those losses, in part by forcing defendants to forgo hundreds of billions in profits they made through what the state calls illegal conduct. But it also requires companies to undo the disinformation campaign they’ve been running for decades, funding “a climate change corrective public education campaign in Minnesota, administered and controlled by an independent third party.”

“Fooling the public about science is not a new concept,” said Doug Blanke, director of the Center for Public Health Law of the Mitchell Hamline Law School, who was part of the legal team that sued the tobacco industry in the 1990s, in which he won a settlement of more than $ 6 billion for the state of Minnesota. There still has to be the same kind of victory against the oil and gas industry, but tobacco settlement also seemed almost impossible, until it wasn’t.

The Exxon documents are damning. Minnesota’s complaint includes a 1979 document from Exxon Engineering, which acknowledges that CO2 in the atmosphere was increasing, and that according to “the most widespread theory”, that increase was caused by burning fossil fuels, and “the current trend in fossil fuel consumption will cause dramatic environmental effects before the year 2050. “

But Exxon worked to “emphasize uncertainty in scientific conclusions about the potential enhanced greenhouse effect.” And in 1991, the Environmental Information Council, a front group created by the coal and electricity industries, had launched a disinformation campaign to “reposition global warming as a theory (not as a fact).” The group published ads with phrases like “Who told you the Earth was heating up … Chicken Little?” and “Doomsday is canceled. Again.”

“Our future generations count on our actions today,” he said. Winona LaDuke, a Minnesota Native American land rights activist who has been at the forefront of the battle against a new pipeline and gas pipeline in the state. There is no oil in Minnesota, but it is crossed by pipelines, such as those of Koch Industries, which transport oil from Canada to ports along the Great Lakes. “I have spent most of my life fighting silly ideas,” said LaDuke. “I am proud that Minnesota is stepping up.”

The oil and gas industry is at an exceptionally unbalanced time. As shelter-in-place requests drastically changed our energy consumption, a barrel of oil was valued below zero earlier this year, and companies are still struggling to strike a balance. More generally, renewables, while also hampered by the shutdown, continue to take control of the energy market, and the steady pace of the divestment move removes financial support from the fossil fuel industry. Now Minnesota hopes to rack up a charge for the hundreds of billions of dollars they say climate change has cost them. “Holding these companies accountable for the climate deception they have spread and continue to spread is essential to helping families pay for their lives and live with dignity and respect,” said Ellison. “When corporations and trade associations break the law and harm Minnesotans, it is my job and my duty to hold them accountable.”