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Massachusetts court deals blow to ExxonMobil; rules company must hand over climate change research

A Massachusetts court ruled against ExxonMobil's attempt to stop the state's attorney general from obtaining records related to the company's knowledge of climate change. (2010 file photo/John Gress/Getty Images)

The top court in Massachusetts ruled Friday against ExxonMobil’s attempt to block the state attorney general from ordering the company to give up records related to the company’s research into the impact that fossil fuels may have on climate change.

What's the story?

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) is trying to obtain records to find out whether ExxonMobil violated Massachusetts’s consumer protection law with the way that it marketed and sold fossil fuels. She first began filing requests for documents from ExxonMobil in April 2016.

ExxonMobil sued to stop the investigation, lost its first attempt to do so, and then appealed the case to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman started a similar probe and declared that he had found “significant evidence” that ExxonMobil had misrepresented data on research into climate change. In a news release from October 2016, the company dismissed the lawsuits by both attorneys general as “biased attempts to further a political agenda for financial gain.”

ExxonMobil argued that since it is based in Texas and New Jersey, the attorney general of Massachusetts should not have any jurisdiction to investigate the company. The court disagreed, arguing that the 300 gas stations owned by ExxonMobil in the state were sufficient to validate the investigation.

What was the ruling?

Friday's 6-0 ruling stated: "We conclude that there is personal jurisdiction over Exxon with respect to the Attorney General's investigation, and that the judge did not abuse her discretion in denying Exxon's requests to set aside the C.I.D., disqualify the Attorney General, and issue a stay. We affirm the judge's order in its entirety.”

In 2015, a leaked report revealed that in the 1970s and '80s, the company’s researchers believed that the burning of fossil fuels was related to climate change. In 1979, an official managing the Department of Energy’s carbon dioxide research program praised the company’s research as a “very responsible action, which we hope will serve as a model for research contributions from the corporate sector.”

The court stated that the documents indicate that ExxonMobil failed to alert the public of potential health risks, which goes against state law, and "instead sought to undermine the evidence of climate change altogether, in order to preserve its value as a company.”

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