New York Sues ExxonMobil

Oct 25, 2018
Originally published on October 25, 2018 9:40 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right, the energy giant ExxonMobil is accused of misleading investors and shareholders and analysts about the cost of climate change to the company's bottom line. New York's attorney general, Barbara Underwood, is suing the company for defrauding shareholders. And NPR's Wade Goodwyn has the story.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: The lawsuit doesn't hold ExxonMobil liable for helping to create climate change. It accuses the energy giant of misleading the investing public about how global warming was affecting the value of the company's fossil fuel assets around the world.

TOM SANZILLO: What the attorney general is essentially saying is, you kept two sets of books.

GOODWYN: Tom Sanzillo is the director of finance for the Institute for Energy, Economics and Financial Analysis and former New York state comptroller. Sanzillo says the allegations are about Exxon refusing to write down the value of its fossil fuel assets that are still in the ground.

SANZILLO: Two sets of books - one internally that they were keeping so that they understood what reality was and another, more nuanced reality, if you will, for the investment public. The allegation really is that the company is not as big as it says it is and is not worth as much as it says it is.

GOODWYN: Exxon declined to comment to NPR but released a statement that said, in part, these baseless allegations are a product of closed-door lobbying by special interests, political opportunism and the attorney general's inability to admit that a three-year investigation has uncovered no wrongdoing.

ExxonMobil has moved to thwart the investigation by attorneys general in three states, alleging it's a conspiracy involving the Rockefeller Foundation, tort lawyers, environmentalists and Democratic AGs. Michael Burger is a professor at Columbia Law School who specializes in climate change law. Burger doubts Exxon's conspiracy theories are going to hold up in court.

MICHAEL BURGER: This is about climate change. It's about the risks that regulation poses to the fossil fuel industry over the next half century or more. But this particular complaint is about corporate fraud.

GOODWYN: At the end of Wednesday's trading on Wall Street, shares of ExxonMobil were down about 3 percent.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.