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  • Ashley Baker

The Climate-Change Lawsuit Debacle

The following op-ed by Committee for Justice president Curt Levey was published in the Wall Street Journal:

In the courtroom, as every lawyer knows, you can win or lose by a little. You can also win or lose by a lot. Last week, in its climate-change lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corp., the New York attorney general’s office lost by a lot.

New York’s legal pursuit of Texas-based Exxon Mobil began in 2015 under Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and continued under his successors. What started as an allegation of “a longstanding fraudulent scheme by Exxon . . . to deceive investors” about climate change ended with Letitia James, who was elected attorney general last year, withdrawing two of the four fraud charges against the company during closing arguments in court.

After those charges were dropped, all that remained of the government’s case—which the court described as a “hyperbolic Complaint”—was second-guessing about how Exxon Mobil accounts for the uncertain effect on its business of climate-change policies that governments might adopt in the future. Even then, under the low bar of New York’s Martin Act—which grants the attorney general extremely broad investigatory powers and requires neither knowledge of wrongdoing nor damage to convict—Ms. James struck out. The court ruled that the state failed to show “that ExxonMobil made any material misstatements or omissions.”

Such a humiliating defeat following an extensive three-year investigation shouldn’t come as a surprise. This and other climate lawsuits against oil and gas companies are doomed to fail because they are grounded in disingenuous claims.

The real gripe of those funding and prosecuting climate suits against energy companies is mankind’s continued reliance on fossil fuels, not accounting or reporting policies. No one really believes those policies are what drives demand for fossil fuels. In his 55-page ruling, trial judge Barry Ostrager alluded to the suit’s misdirected purpose: “ExxonMobil does not dispute either that its operations produce greenhouse gases or that greenhouse gases contribute to climate change. But ExxonMobil is in the business of producing energy, and this is a securities fraud case, not a climate change case.”...

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