BOSTON (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) urged Massachusetts’ top court on Tuesday to block the state’s attorney general from obtaining records to investigate whether the company for decades concealed its knowledge of the role fossil fuels have on climate change.
A lawyer for Exxon told justices on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that his arguments were focused only on whether Attorney General Maura Healey had jurisdiction to seek records to probe whether the oil company misled consumers and investors.
“We are not asking this court to weigh in on the causes of climate change,” Justin Anderson, Exxon’s lawyer, said.
But Anderson said Healey was improperly trying to establish jurisdiction in part based on more than 300 Exxon-branded gas stations in Massachusetts operated by franchisees to justify probing the Texas-based company’s actions elsewhere.
“They can only be held to account here for what they’ve done here,” Anderson said.
Richard Johnston, Healey’s chief legal counsel, countered that Exxon had control over the franchisees’ marketing and conducted advertising on their behalf.
“We should be able to find out whether they knew about impact of fossil fuels on global warming so they should have said more in those advertisements,” Johnston said.
He urged the court to allow Healey to carry on her probe into whether Exxon failed to disclose what it knew to consumers and investors and engaged in a campaign to sow doubts about the science of climate change.
Healey, a Democrat, and New York Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sought records following news reports in 2015 how Exxon’s own scientists determined that reducing fossil fuel combustion was needed to mitigate the impact of climate change.
Those reports by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times were based on documents from the 1970s and 1980s. Exxon contends that the documents were not inconsistent with its public positions.
After Healey issued a demand for documents in April 2016, Exxon filed a lawsuit challenging the records request and another case in federal court challenging her and Schneiderman’s investigations.
Tuesday’s hearing came after Exxon appealed a lower-court judge’s January ruling denying its request to avoid handing over the documents.
While the six justices gave no indication how they would rule, some expressed skepticism that the 300 stations could not create jurisdiction, even if consumers bought gas from a franchisee.
“They believe they’re buying Exxon gas,” Justice Elspeth Cypher said. “The citizens of this state believe that’s what they’re buying.”
(This version of the story has been refiled to add dropped word “of” in 3rd paragraph, removes extra “if” in seventh paragraph)
Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Peter Cooney and Marguerita Choy