Exxon claims California climate change hypocrisy

ExxonMobil is trying to turn the tables on its climate change opponents.The oil company said it's the victim o...

Posted: Jan 9, 2018 11:47 PM
Updated: Jan 9, 2018 11:47 PM

ExxonMobil is trying to turn the tables on its climate change opponents.

The oil company said it's the victim of a vast "conspiracy," brought on by multiple cities and counties in California.

San Francisco, Oakland and other municipalities have sued Exxon, demanding the oil giant and its rivals pay billions to cover damage from looming sea level rise due to climate change.

In a court filing in Texas on Monday, Exxon argued that these California cities and counties have contradicted themselves by admitting in bond sales that climate change risks are unpredictable. Exxon threatened a counter-lawsuit over alleged "abuse of government power."

Exxon said that while these cities and towns warned that "imminent sea level rise presented a substantial threat to its jurisdiction...none of the municipalities disclosed to investors such risks."

Federal law requires companies and governments to reveal risks to investors before selling securities like stock or in this case muni bonds.

Exxon essentially accused the municipalities of fraud, arguing that this "stark and irreconcilable conflict" suggests the allegations local governments made against the oil industry "are not honestly held and were not made in good faith."

In the court filing, Exxon requested permission to investigate potential "abuse of process" and "civil conspiracy" by deposing 16 individuals, including city officials from Oakland and San Francisco who are leading the lawsuit against the company.

A spokesman for San Francisco's city attorney called the Exxon move "outrageous" and an "attempted end-run around the California courts." He added, "it's exactly what you would expect from a company like Exxon."

Marin County counsel Brian Washington, who Exxon wants to depose, said local officials won't be dissuaded by Exxon's petition.

"We will continue to stand up for our taxpayers so that they aren't on the hook for all the costs of addressing the damage caused by Exxon and others in the fossil fuel industry," Washington said in a statement.

Representatives from Oakland did not respond to a request by CNNMoney for comment.

Michael Burger, executive director for Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, said he "can't imagine any court will treat seriously" Exxon's complaints.

"It wouldn't be farfetched to see this as an attempt to harass the officials in the lawsuit as a way to scare them off of it," Burger said.

Related: Exxon gives up major climate change fight

Jane Montgomery, an environmental law partner at law firm Schiff Hardin, said Exxon's strategy is designed to make it more difficult for the California cities and counties to pursue their lawsuit.

"They are just turning the tables...I don't know that it kills" the California lawsuits, said Montgomery, who has represented energy companies.

The Exxon claims mark the latest flashpoint between Big Oil and opponents of the fossil fuel industry.

The long-running battle accelerated last year when San Francisco and Oakland became the first major U.S. cities to attempt to shift the costs of climate change from the public to oil companies themselves. The Bay Area cities demanded Exxon, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell pay for the costs of sea walls and other protections against rising sea levels.

In the petition filed on Monday, Exxon paints itself as a victim of "abusive law enforcement tactics and litigation" by those trying to achieve "political objectives."

"ExxonMobil finds itself directly in that conspiracy's crosshairs," the filing said, adding that Exxon has reason to believe local municipal officials could "conceal and potentially even destroy evidence."

Related: Oil giant bets on electric cars

To make its case, Exxon pointed to various examples of alleged hypocrisy by the California cities it's being sued by.

For instance, last year Oakland told investors in a bond offering that "the City is unable to predict when" events such as "sea rise or other impacts of climate change...could occur, when they may occur" or their impact on the local economy.

Yet in Oakland's lawsuit against Exxon and other oil companies it spelled out specific consequences of climate change. Oakland said that by 2100 the city is likely to have up to "66 inches of sea level rise" that along with flooding will threaten its sewer system and property at a cost of up to $38 billion.

Exxon has faced renewed pressure over climate change following the release of a recent Harvard study that concluded the company "misled the public." The study found that for nearly 40 years Exxon publicly raised doubt over the dangers of climate change even as scientists within the company acknowledged the growing threat.

--CNN's Rene Marsh contributed to this report.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 501652

Reported Deaths: 10024
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34353540
DeSoto32162408
Hinds31977631
Jackson24508383
Rankin22015390
Lee15596235
Madison14597280
Jones13867243
Forrest13461252
Lauderdale11998317
Lowndes11065188
Lamar10522136
Pearl River9547237
Lafayette8557140
Hancock7740127
Washington7443160
Oktibbeha7147133
Monroe6787178
Warren6706176
Pontotoc6677104
Neshoba6642206
Panola6542131
Marshall6476135
Bolivar6323150
Union605794
Pike5824152
Alcorn5676102
Lincoln5439135
George497479
Scott473098
Tippah470381
Prentiss469182
Leflore4663144
Itawamba4640105
Adams4592119
Tate4592111
Copiah448792
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Sunflower4240105
Marion4232108
Coahoma4168107
Leake408688
Newton381779
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Stone360664
Tishomingo360092
Attala331789
Jasper330165
Winston314691
Clay308977
Chickasaw301067
Clarke292594
Calhoun279447
Holmes267987
Smith264150
Yalobusha234547
Tallahatchie228251
Greene219449
Walthall218764
Lawrence213140
Perry205956
Amite205256
Webster203046
Noxubee186840
Montgomery179657
Jefferson Davis172243
Carroll169338
Tunica160039
Benton149239
Kemper141941
Choctaw133326
Claiborne132837
Humphreys129638
Franklin120328
Quitman106528
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94734
Sharkey64220
Issaquena1937
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 820312

Reported Deaths: 15407
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1148731924
Mobile726221339
Madison52362697
Shelby37640350
Baldwin37266552
Tuscaloosa35120612
Montgomery34123740
Lee23540246
Calhoun22236488
Morgan20958378
Etowah19838500
Marshall18381304
Houston17394412
St. Clair16078339
Cullman15468293
Limestone15354199
Elmore15271286
Lauderdale14323295
Talladega13851283
DeKalb12664261
Walker11221370
Blount10207176
Autauga10048148
Jackson9877184
Coffee9211191
Dale8904185
Colbert8877201
Tallapoosa7093198
Escambia6778134
Covington6715183
Chilton6648162
Russell637559
Franklin5969105
Chambers5612142
Marion5010127
Dallas4979200
Pike4796106
Clarke475884
Geneva4575127
Winston4522103
Lawrence4327117
Bibb425386
Barbour357876
Marengo338390
Monroe331664
Randolph329864
Butler326796
Pickens316584
Henry312866
Hale311688
Cherokee302960
Fayette294180
Washington251651
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245375
Clay243368
Macon234863
Lamar224847
Conecuh186353
Coosa180340
Lowndes175464
Wilcox168939
Bullock151744
Perry138940
Sumter133238
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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