New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched the probe late Wednesday (and CNBC confirmed it Thursday afternoon), subpoenaing the company – now known as the ExxonMobil – and demanding extensive financial records, emails and other documents related to climate research. [...] At issue in the New York state investigation is whether ExxonMobil – one of the world’s biggest oil companies – confirmed the climate destabilizing role of carbon emissions but misled the public about what they knew. Investors are also a potentially wronged party: the New York attorney general is looking at whether the company prepared shareholders for how a policy response to climate change could hurt the company’s oil business.
Following up on our previous coverage, powerful evidence surfaced recently that ExxonMobil not only recognized climate change decades ago, it put those beliefs into action, basing company decisions on the available science. At the same time, however, the oil giant urged policymakers around the world not to address the intensifying climate crisis that its own scientists and engineers recognized.
Two weeks ago, some congressional Democrats concluded there are grounds for a federal criminal investigation and asked the Justice Department to consider the matter. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) even raised the prospect of a civil RICO investigation targeting ExxonMobil if the company “actively misled” the public.
Federal law enforcement has not yet responded to the “Exxon Knew” pressure, though MSNBC's Tony Dokoupil reported yesterday on a notable state probe that's just getting underway.
“We have received a subpoena for production of documents relating to climate change from the attorney general of New York and are assessing our response,” Exxon said in a statement to CNBC. “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 that was conducted publicly in conjunction with the Department of Energy, academics and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”
The issue is also of growing significance in the presidential campaign. While none of the 15 Republican candidates have commented on the controversy publicly, Hillary Clinton has said federal investigators should launch an investigation because "there’s a lot of evidence that they misled people.”
Bernie Sanders has personally urged the Justice Department to step in, pointing to a “potential instance of corporate fraud.”
And Martin O'Malley, who focused on this issue before his rivals, said in mid-October, “We held tobacco companies responsible for lying about cancer. Let’s do the same for oil companies & climate change.”