Minnesota sues Exxon, Koch and API for being 'deceptive' on climate change

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The state of Minnesota on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the American Petroleum Institute, Exxon Mobil Corp and Koch Industries for what it called a decades-long campaign to deceive the public about climate change.

FILE PHOTO: Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announces upgraded charges against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and charges against three other former police officers involved in the death of George Floyd in police custody, in St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S. June 3, 2020. REUTERS/Eric Miller/File Photo

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal challenges by states, cities, and citizen groups targeting fossil fuel companies over their role in global warming. It is also the first naming the API, the nation’s main oil and gas industry lobby group, as a defendant.

Attorney General Keith Ellison said the state believed the API, Exxon and Koch violated Minnesota laws barring consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices and false advertising.

The complaint alleges the companies and industry body “strategized to deceive the public” about climate science to protect their business interests and accused them of a “multi-pronged campaign of deception” conducted over the last 30 years.

“The fraud, deceptive advertising, and other violations of Minnesota state law and common law that the lawsuit shows they perpetrated have harmed Minnesotans’ health and our state’s environment, infrastructure, and economy,” Ellison said.

He said the state has asked a Minnesota district court to require the defendants to fund an education campaign on climate change and pay for damages caused by global warming.

Exxon spokesman Casey Norton called the lawsuit “part of a coordinated, politically motivated campaign against energy companies.”

The API did not directly comment on the lawsuit, but said the oil industry had been working to provide “affordable, reliable energy to U.S. consumers while substantially reducing emissions and our environmental footprint.”

“Any suggestion to the contrary is false,” said API Chief Legal Officer Paul Afonso.

In January, API launched an advertising campaign touting the role of natural gas in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A Koch official did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At least 15 other plaintiffs, including states, cities and youth and citizen groups, have filed similar lawsuits against the oil and gas industry, including Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island.

In December, Exxon prevailed in a case brought by New York that accused the oil major of failing to disclose the financial risks of climate change to investors.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Marguerita Choy