By Nate Raymond
Massachusetts’ top court on Friday rejected Exxon Mobil Corp’s bid to block the state’s attorney general from obtaining records to investigate whether the company for decades concealed its knowledge of the role fossil fuels play in climate change.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled Attorney General Maura Healey had jurisdiction to seek records to probe whether the oil company’s marketing or sale of fossil fuel products violated the state’s consumer protection law.
The ruling marked another setback for Exxon after a federal judge in March dismissed a related lawsuit it filed seeking to block investigations by Healey and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, both of whom are Democrats.
Exxon argued that because it is incorporated in Texas and New Jersey, Healey had no basis to issue a demand for documents in 2016 to conduct a Massachusetts-based investigation of whether it misled consumers and investors.
But Justice Elspeth Cypher, writing for a 6-0 court, said jurisdiction existed because of Exxon’s control over advertising conducted for about 300 franchise gas stations operating under the Exxon and Mobil brands in Massachusetts.
She said Healey’s probe related to how manmade greenhouse gas emissions had caused climate change, “a distinctly modern threat that grows more serious with time, and the effects of which are already being felt in Massachusetts.”
Healey said she hoped Exxon would now turn over documents it has fought hard against disclosing, showing what it knew about climate change and when it knew it.
“I hope this decision will encourage Exxon to end their scorched earth campaign,” she said.
Scott Silvestri, a spokesman for Exxon, said the company was considering its next steps.
Healey and Schneiderman launched their investigations following news reports in 2015 saying Exxon’s own scientists determined that fossil fuel combustion must be reduced to mitigate the impact of climate change.
Those reports by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times were based on documents from the 1970s and 1980s. Exxon contended that the documents were not inconsistent with its public positions.
Exxon has called the investigations politically motivated and in a separate lawsuit filed in federal court claimed that Schneiderman and Healey were conspiring to “silence and intimidate one side of the public policy debate.”
But U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan dismissed that case in March, rejecting as “implausible” Exxons’ claim Healey and Schneiderman were pursuing bad faith investigations in order to violate its constitutional rights.
Published on Reuters on April 13, 2018
Human rights and environment
In recent years, the recognition of the links between human rights and the environment has greatly increased. The number and scope of international and domestic laws, judicial decisions, and academic studies on the relationship between human rights and the environment have grown rapidly.
Many States now incorporate a right to a healthy environment in their constitutions. Many questions about the relationship of human rights and the environment remain unresolved, however, and require further examination.
As a result, in March 2012 the Human Rights Council decided to establish a mandate on human rights and the environment, which will (among other tasks) study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and promote best practices relating to the use of human rights in environmental policymaking.
Mr. John Knox was appointed in August 2012 to a three-year term as the first Independent Expert on human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. His mandate was further extended in March 2015 for another three years as a Special Rapporteur.
The resolution 16/11 adopted by the Human Rights Council on 12th of April 2011 entitled “Human Rights and the environment” requested the Office of the High Commissioner “in consultation with and taking into account the views of States Members of the United Nations, relevant international organizations and intergovernmental bodies, including the United Nations Environment Programme and relevant multilateral environmental agreements, special procedures, treaty bodies and other stakeholders, to conduct, within existing resources, a detailed analytical study on the relationship between human rights and the environment” (para.1).
See also the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
Human rights and climate change
In its 5th Assessment Report (2014), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) unequivocally confirmed that climate change is real and that human-made greenhouse gas emissions are its primary cause. The report identified the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and natural disasters, rising sea-levels, floods, heat waves, droughts, desertification, water shortages, and the spread of tropical and vector-borne diseases as some of the adverse impacts of climate change. These phenomena directly and indirectly threaten the full and effective enjoyment of a range of human rights by people throughout the world, including the rights to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development.