The push is on to hold the world’s largest energy company accountable for decades of unchecked pollution and for its lies about greenhouse-gas pollution that have served as its unsteady foundation. The company in question is ExxonMobil, the fossil-fuel conglomerate known for setting world records for quarterly profits, raking in billions of dollars every month. With its secretive ways — including its isolated Texas headquarters that some call “the Death Star” — and its penchant for meddling in the political affairs of Third World nations around the globe, ExxonMobil has always been a dark force in corporate America.
The company’s day-to-day operations are a frequent reminder that oil is a dirty business. I’ve seen that close-up in my home state of Louisiana, where ExxonMobil’s massive refinery — plunked down, of course, in the middle of a poor and mostly black community of Baton Rouge called Standard Heights — pumps hundreds of thousands of pounds of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, into the air every year. That type of corporate malfeasance is hard to take, but over the last year or so a new twist has developed: There is mounting evidence that scientists working for ExxonMobil knew about the risks of climate change and the role of burning fossil fuels decades ago. And the company’s greedy approach was to spend millions denying and undermining its own research.
Now, activists in Boston are using a new technique for fighting back:
The environmental advocacy group Conservation Law Foundation has made good on its threat to sue Exxon Mobil Corp., filing what it says is the first U.S. legal action aimed at holding the oil giant accountable for its well-documented climate change cover-up.
The 70-page suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Boston, alleges Exxon Mobil’s bulk storage and distribution terminal in Everett, Massachusetts, near Boston Harbor, continues to pollute the Island End and Mystic rivers and threatens nearby communities. The complaint also accuses the company of failing to fortify the facility to withstand climate change, including extreme weather events and rising sea levels.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified civil penalties and injunctive relief, comes as Exxon Mobil faces numerous investigations into whether the company lied to investors and committed fraud by covering up the risks of climate change for decades. The attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts are probing the company, and the Securities and Exchange Commission has begun an investigation into how Exxon Mobil values future projects amid climate change and plunging oil prices.
“Communities were put in danger and remain in danger, all to cut costs for one of the most profitable corporations in the world,” Bradley Campbell, president of Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation, said in a statement. “It’s time to make Exxon answer for decades of false statements to the public and to regulators and ensure that its Everett facility meets its legal obligation to protect thousands of people and the Boston Harbor estuary from toxic water pollution.”
An interesting twist in this lawsuit is that the foundation accuses ExxonMobil of posing great risk to the local environment by not fortifying its waterside facility outside of Boston against the rising sea levels that will accompany climate change. “Despite knowing of the certainty of rising temperatures and rising sea levels since as early as the 1970s, Exxon Mobil did not use its findings to prepare its Everett Terminal for such risks,” the complaint says.
ExxonMobil can be challenged in court of law; I know that, because I’ve been involved in a such a case, winning a record-setting $1 billion-plus jury verdict in 2001 against the firm for dumping radioactive waste on the property of a Louisiana man. The court system remains the best place for seeking corporate justice. Today, it’s increasingly clear that the company is engaged in a massive conspiracy of pollution and denial. This lawsuit in Massachusetts is a bold new step in setting things right.
Read more about the Conservation Law Foundation lawsuit against ExxomMobil: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/exxonmobil-lawsuit-conservation-law-foundation-climate-change_us_57ec1512e4b024a52d2c5ae5?ir=Green&utm_hp_ref=green
Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice
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