SCOTUS rejects Exxon in climate change document dispute

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for the attorney general of Massachusetts to obtain records from Exxon Mobil Corp(XOM.N) to probe whether the oil company for decades concealed its knowledge of the role fossil fuels play in climate change.

The justices declined to hear Exxon’s appeal of a ruling by the top court in Massachusetts holding that state Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, had jurisdiction to seek records to probe whether the company misled consumers and investors.

The high court’s action marked the latest setback for Exxon in its efforts to halt the Massachusetts investigation and a similar one by New York’s attorney general, who in October filed a lawsuit against the company.

New York’s lawsuit accused Exxon of engaging in a systematic scheme to deceive investors about the impact that future climate change regulations could have on its business. Exxon has called the claims “meritless.”

The Massachusetts and New York investigations were launched following 2015 news reports that Exxon’s own scientists had determined that fossil fuel combustion must be reduced to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Photos of the week: 12/28 - 1/4
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Photos of the week: 12/28 - 1/4
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 02: A sign informs visitors that the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian is closed due to the government shutdown on January 02, 2019 in New York City. As President Donald Trump continues to insist on money to build a wall along the Southern border of the United States, the partial government shutdown and the standoff with Democrats continues. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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A man dressed as Ded Moroz, the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus, helps a member of the Cryophile amateur winter swimmers' club, who walks into the icy waters of the Yenisei River during an event marking the New Year and Christmas season, with the air temperature at about minus 26 degrees Celsius (minus 14.8 degrees Fahrenheit), in Krasnoyarsk, Russia December 30, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A man watches the fireworks exploding over Copacabana Beach during the New Year's celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
The temperature is below minus 20 degrees Celsius. The mouth of a swan in the park has been frozen. Bozhou, Xinjiang, China, December 29, 2018.PHOTOGRAPH BY Costfoto / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read Costfoto / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
BANTEN, INDONESIA - DECEMBER 28: An Indonesian woman salvages materials from her restaurant which was washed 30 meters across a road by the tsunami on December 28, 2018 in Banten, Indonesia. Flights have been rerouted and the alert lever for the Anak Krakatau Volcano raised to the second highest level as it continues to erupt sending massive clouds of ash into the air nearly a week after the volcano caused a deadly tsunami killing over 400 people.(Photo by Ed Wray/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump, left, listens as Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, talks about border security, Thursday Jan. 3, 2019, after making a surprise visit to the press briefing room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Boxing - Floyd Mayweather v Tenshin Nasukawa - Saitama Super Arena, Tokyo, Japan - December 31, 2018 Floyd Mayweather knocks down Tenshin Nasukawa in the first round REUTERS/Issei Kato TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Rescue workers at the site of a train accident on Great Belt Bridge in Nyborg, in Denmark, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019. At least six people were killed and 16 others injured early Wednesday when a Danish passenger train apparently hit falling cargo from a passing freight train as it crossed a bridge linking central Denmark's islands. Police spokesman Lars Braemhoej said that while "we do not know precisely what caused the accident," one possible cause was that cargo from a passing freight train fell off and hit the passenger train. He added there was "considerable damage" on the passenger train. (Tim Kildeborg Jensen/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)
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People play ice hockey on the frozen "Lac des Tailleres" lake (1040 meters above sea level) on the Jura mountain massif in La Brevine, Switzerland, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

Those news reports, by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times, were based on documents from the 1970s and 1980s. Exxon said the documents were not inconsistent with its public positions.

Healey in 2016 issued a civil investigative demand to Exxon seeking documents to investigate whether it had violated the state’s consumer-protection law through its marketing and sale of fossil fuel products.

Exxon said that because it is incorporated in Texas and New Jersey, Healey had no basis to seek documents to conduct a Massachusetts-based investigation.

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