With a kind of judicial sneer, a federal judge Thursday labeled as “implausible” claims Exxon made in a lawsuit seeking an end to two states’ fraud investigations into the giant corporation.
The target of those state probes are decades of lying engineered by Exxon’s executives to cover up that they knew climate change was real even as they and those they paid smeared and otherwise attacked climate scientists and environmental advocates as radicals, charlatans and greedy grant-seekers.
The corporation’s lawyers argued in Exxon Mobil Corp v. Schneiderman that the investigations amounted to a political vendetta designed to violate the corporation’s First Amendment rights. What happened, the lawyers wrote, was Democratic attorneys general Eric Schneiderman of New York and Maura Healey of Massachusetts formed a conspiracy to “silence and intimidate one side of the public policy debate on how to address climate change.” Therefore, the lawyers asserted in their lawsuit, the investigations should be stopped.
The judge dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning Exxon cannot bring it up again. Or, to put it in technical terms, she called it hogwash.
The impetus for those state investigations came from InsideClimate News, the prize-winning website. In 2015, it published the results of its own eight-month investigation into what Exxon actually knew about climate change contrasted with what company spokespeople said publicly. The journalists revealed that Exxon’s own scientists had told the company’s top brass four decades ago that climate change was real and burning fossil fuels was the cause of much of it.
But from then until not long ago, the company told investors, the public, politicians, and the media that climate change wasn’t real and, later on, that even if it was real, nothing could be done, and even if something could be done it would be too expensive to actually do.
This bag of twisted fabrications was well-funded, with gobs of money going to think-tanks and academics who used their own often suspect credentials to paint climate science denial with a patina respectability and smear climate scientists personally and professionally. Exxon was not, of course, the only corporation or other entity that engaged in this decades-long disinformation campaign.