Attorneys for ExxonMobil have revealed a plan to ratchet up pressure on state attorneys general who have vowed to hold Exxon and fossil fuel companies accountable for their conduct on climate change.
Exxon attorney Theodore Wells told a New York judge that the company is working on deposing at least 17 attorneys general and their staffs who earlier this year joined with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman under the banner of AGs United for Clean Power.
By pulling those attorneys general into the fight, Exxon could trigger years of legal wrangling over disclosure of its understanding of climate risks.
That plan came to light during a hearing in Exxon's battle with Schneiderman over his office's investigation into whether the company violated consumer fraud laws in connection with climate change-related disclosures.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who is locked in a court battle with Exxon in Texas over her investigation of the company, said Exxon's legal strategy is "calculated to initiate no-holds-barred discovery" against the attorneys general, according to a motion her office filed in the Texas case.
Neither an Exxon spokesman nor company lawyers returned calls for comment.
This recent round of saber rattling is the latest in a year of escalation since the New York attorney general's office hit Exxon with a subpoena for records spanning four decades of Exxon's research findings and communications about climate change. The subpoena came in the wake of reporting, including an InsideClimate News investigative series, that the company was warned by its own researchers in the late 1970s about the possible catastrophic consequences of climate change and then led efforts to block solutions.
Schneiderman was first to open an investigation under the state's consumer protection laws. Massachusetts' Healey and Claude Walker, attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands, followed, although Walker has since suspended his investigation.
The three are part of a coalition announced by Schneiderman during a news conference in March. Members of the coalition—known as the Green 17—also include the attorneys general from California, Maryland, Vermont, Oregon and nine other states and the District of Columbia.