In Connecticut, when a corporation markets a product that causes harm and, more importantly, lies about its danger to the public, it should be held accountable for the damage caused. It’s time to hold ExxonMobil accountable for its role in our climate crisis.
To be clear, I support American businesses, particularly those in Connecticut. But companies need to play by the rules. If they don’t play fair, they must be held accountable like any other.
When e-cigarette maker JUUL misled consumers about the addictiveness of its nicotine products, targeting young people with manipulative advertising, Connecticut led a 34-state bipartisan investigation, leading to a settlement which forced JUUL to stop its deceptive marketing and pay hundreds of millions of dollars to address the harm it caused.
When major opioid distributors and manufacturers similarly misled patients and doctors about the addictiveness of their products and flooded our communities with highly addictive painkillers, our state was part of a historic $26 billion settlement, halting the deceptive practices and funding treatment and prevention programs.
Now, thanks to our Attorney General’s Office, Connecticut is fighting to hold oil giant ExxonMobil accountable for similarly engaging in fraudulent and deceptive behavior, putting the profits of its shareholders and executives above the health and wellbeing of everyone else.
Two years ago, Attorney General William Tong filed a major consumer protection lawsuit against Exxon for “lying to Connecticut and the American people” about the role that its oil and gas products play in our worsening climate crisis. A federal appeals court is now poised to decide whether the lawsuit will go forward in state court, where Connecticut aims to put these polluters on trial to seek the justice we deserve.
Exxon’s lies — which have run the gamut from spreading outright climate denial decades ago to misleading the public about the company’s commitments to fixing the problem today — have had devastating consequences for our environment and communities. Worsening heat waves smashed records this summer, jeopardizing public health and placing new demands on our public resources. As we confront more severe droughts, floods, and sea-level rise, our state will have to spend enormous sums of money to protect residents and critical infrastructure against this new climate reality.
Exxon, however, saw this catastrophe coming decades ago. In the 1970s, Exxon executives were told by their own scientists that continued use of oil and gas could lead to dangerous global warming and that “changes in energy strategies might become critical,” in the words of one company memo. Without a major reduction in the use of fossil fuels, Exxon’s research later showed, “potentially catastrophic events” could follow, and the effects “might not be reversible.”
As a recent PBS documentary, “The Power of Big Oil,” explains, Exxon did not use its early knowledge of climate change to sound the alarm and help usher in the clean energy revolution. Instead, corporate leadership made the consequential decision to push climate denial and disinformation, and combat governmental efforts to tackle climate change, so that Exxon could keep getting rich from the products fueling our climate crisis. “We were looking out for investments,” Exxon’s former lobbyist admitted last year.
As we in Connecticut pay the price for more extreme weather events, Exxon recently announced an all-time record quarterly profit of nearly $18 billion. An ongoing congressional investigation has shown that Exxon is doubling down on its dirty fossil fuel business while it actively misleads the public about its commitment to cleaner energy. Last year, as part of that investigation, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods refused, while under oath, to pledge that Exxon would stop spending money to oppose climate action. That tells you all you need to know!
The climate crisis is becoming more severe and requires an all-hands-on-deck response. Federal officials, and state representatives like me, must do everything in our power to invest in cleaner and more affordable energy, and speed the transition away from the fossil fuels driving the climate crisis. But we should also name the culprits most responsible and support our law enforcement officials in their efforts to hold them accountable.
AG Tong’s lawsuit is not simply about punishing Exxon and stopping its deceptive practices — it’s also about making the multibillion-dollar polluter right its wrongs and clean up the mess it has made. The Attorney General’s office is asking the court to make Exxon pay its fair share of the costs our state will incur to make our communities more resilient against climate change. In a nod to how tobacco companies were made to fund public anti-smoking campaigns, Connecticut’s lawsuit also seeks to make Exxon fund corrective public education about climate change “to remedy the harm inflicted by decades of disinformation.”
The evidence of Exxon’s climate deception is clear: they knew, they lied, and like other corporations before them, they should be held accountable. The people of Connecticut deserve our day in state court to do just that.
Jonathan Steinberg is the Representative of the Connecticut House’s 136th District, Westport