ExxonMobil probed on climate science

ExxonMobil is being investigated by New York state on whether it lied to the public about the risks of climate change, a spokesman for New York's top prosecutor said (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

New York (AFP) - ExxonMobil is being investigated by New York state over whether it lied to the public about the risks of climate change, the oil giant said Thursday.

Ken Cohen, a vice president for public affairs at ExxonMobil, described the demand for documents as a "broad subpoena" and said the company was still reviewing how to respond to it.

A person familiar with the New York prosecutor's thinking said Schneiderman believes ExxonMobil knowingly understated the risks of climate change to consumers and shareholders.

Schneiderman's subpoena demands documents dating back to 1977 on ExxonMobil's climate science, its marketing and advertising materials that discuss climate change and its funding of climate science inside and outside the company, said a person familiar with Schneiderman's probe.

The probe comes on the heels of investigative stories by the website Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times that recounted how scientists at the oil giant as early as the 1970s recognized climate change as a potentially grave problem caused by fossil fuel use.

Even so, the stories showed, ExxonMobil in the 1990s and early 2000s campaigned against that idea and fought the Kyoto Accord and other major policy efforts to regulate carbon emissions. It also funded lobby groups that questioned the link between fossil fuel emissions and climate change.

Some ExxonMobil critics have likened the oil giant's conduct to that of tobacco companies that suppressed evidence linking tobacco use to cancer.

Cohen rejected those comparisons. He said in a conference call with reporters that ExxonMobil has a long record of trying to understand the complexities of climate science and has worked to reduce emissions and develop innovative technologies that are good for the environment.

"We unequivocally reject allegations that ExxonMobil suppressed climate change research contained in media reports that are inaccurate distortions of ExxonMobil's nearly 40-year history of climate research," Cohen said.

Cohen said ExxonMobil has also been vocal on leading policy debates, as when it fought US enactment of the Kyoto Protocol in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Part of that campaign questioned climate science.

"We felt the science needed further development to take such a step that would have handicapped the US" compared with other countries that would not have been required to cut emissions, he said.

Cohen said ExxonMobil has been disclosing the business risk of climate change to the oil industry in securities filings since 2007.

Greenpeace applauded Schneiderman’s move as an effort "to further expose the hypocrisy of fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil and hold them accountable for denying climate change to the public and blocking necessary action for decades."

Greenpeace called on the US Department of Justice to initiate its own probe into ExxonMobil.