It’s lawsuit week for Big Oil. A day after Minnesota filed a groundbreaking suit, Washington, DC District Attorney General Karl Racine sued ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Shell, alleging that the companies “systematically and intentionally misled consumers ... about the central role their products play in causing climate change.”
Racine’s consumer protection lawsuit accuses the three defendants of knowing that their products’ carbon emissions have harmful climate consequences as early as the 1950s, and promoting false information to hide that knowledge from the public.
“The companies financed and employed industry associations and front groups to distort and conceal the dangers their fossil fuel products represented,” Racine said in a statement emailed to Earther.
Racine’s lawsuit charges the companies with violating Washington, DC’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act by allegedly carrying out a communications campaign to cast doubt on climate science, exaggerate their commitments to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and hide the impact their products have on the environment.
“If successful, this lawsuit would end the companies’ ability to deceive and lie to the people of Washington, D.C. It could also subject them to large financial penalties for their deception,” Richard Wiles, executive director of legal advocacy group Center for Climate Integrity, told Earther.
Internal company documents indicate that oil majors have done as much. If the court rules in Racine’s favor, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Shell could be forced to turn over more documentation that could provide evidence this deception campaign took place. That deception, Racine said, continues to this day.
“In advertisements across newspapers, online, and in the District’s metro system, Exxon Mobil, BP, Chevron, and Shell all exaggerate their commitment to green, renewable energy sources,” he said. “These ads obscure the fact that none of these companies invests more than 2.3% of capital expenditures in renewables—and that BP, Exxon Mobil, and Shell are planning to expand fossil fuel production by 20% to 35% through 2030. And now that the companies are seeking to sell more natural gas, they market it as ‘safe,’ ‘clean,’ and ‘emissions reducing.’”
In addition to the two lawsuits against Big Oil filed by Racine and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, there are currently 14 other ongoing lawsuits across the U.S. aiming to hold fossil fuel companies and their allies in government liable for climate damages.
Both the Washington, DC, suit and the one filed by Minnesota and Massachusetts on Wednesday come amid historic protests demanding justice for Black people, who are also disproportionately hurt by the fossil fuel industry’s pollution. A 2017 study found that more than 1 million Black Americans live within half a mile of an oil and gas operation, and more than 6.7 million live in a county that is home to a refinery.
“The fossil fuel industry has knowingly fueled the climate crisis without regard for the impact its business has on the environment and people, especially Black, Brown and Indigenous people around the globe,” Sriram Madhusoodanan, deputy campaigns director at Corporate Accountability, said in a statement emailed to Earther. “This lawsuit is one more step toward justice.”
Updated: 6/25/2020, 4:26 p.m. ET: This post has been updated to include comments from Wiles.