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Vermont AG takes on Exxon, Shell over climate change in new lawsuit

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  • Vermont AG claims Exxon, Shell violating state consumer protection law
  • Complaint asks for disgorgement of profits, fines

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan sued Exxon Mobil Corp and the Shell Oil Co in Vermont state court on Tuesday, alleging the companies misled Vermonters for decades with marketing that conceals the contributions to climate change and its harmful effects of burning their fuels.

The lawsuit in Vermont Superior Court, Chittenden Civil Division, is the latest of about two dozen similar ones by states and local governments, from Rhode Island to Honolulu, that are seeking monetary relief over claims oil majors harmed them as they downplayed or misrepresented how the fuels they sold exacerbated the environmental risks tied to climate change.

Vermont's lawsuit seeks the disgorgement of all profits the companies made as a result of any unlawful practice in the state. It makes claims Exxon, Shell and a handful of fuel distributors violated Vermont's Consumer Protection Act with their advertising and statements at gas stations, on their websites and on social media.

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Exxon spokesperson Casey Norton called the claims "baseless and without merit."

"Legal proceedings like this waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change," Norton added.

Shell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Donovan said in a statement: "Vermonters have a right to accurate information in order to make informed decisions about the products they purchase."

The state of Vermont alleges that the companies have known for years, through their internal research, about "the central role of their fossil fuel products" on climate change, but obscured their connection to climate change in marketing materials in order to avoid losing Vermont consumers.

Citing Exxon's website, the complaint says, for example, the Irving, Texas-based company claims its Synergy-branded fuel will help "'reduce CO2 emissions,'" but it fails to mention that the fuel remains a significant contributor to climate change.

CO2, or carbon dioxide, is a greenhouse gas that is released when fuel is burned.

The harmful effects of climate change to which the companies' products have contributed range from rising sea levels to extreme precipitations and droughts, the complaint says.

Vermont also asks the court to impose fines on the defendants.

Over the past two years, attorneys general from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, the District of Columbia and Delaware have sued in state courts members of the fossil fuel industry, accusing them of violating state laws by deceiving consumers about harms caused by their products.

Earlier climate lawsuits by cities including Baltimore and California's Imperial Beach have accused oil and gas majors of causing a public nuisance by selling their products.

A United Nations climate panel said last month in a landmark report that the world is already certain to face further climate disruptions for decades.

The case is State of Vermont v. Exxon Mobil Corp, Vermont Superior Court, Chittenden Civil Division, No. N/A.

For State of Vermont: Justin Kolber with the Office of the Attorney General of Vermont

Read more:

Exxon must face Massachusetts lawsuit alleging climate change deceit

Oil companies defeat New York City appeal over global warming

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Sebastien Malo reports on environmental, climate and energy litigation. Reach him at sebastien.malo@thomsonreuters.com

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