Environmentalists backing a Big Tobacco-style government probe of oil companies plotted their strategy for targeting companies like ExxonMobil at a closed-door meeting in Manhattan earlier this year, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
The report sheds new light on an evolving campaign against the fossil fuel industry that has drawn in several attorneys general who are now investigating ExxonMobil.
According to the Journal, the January meeting in Manhattan was a key moment and brought together several veteran environmental activists to discuss how to “establish in [the] public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution that has pushed humanity (and all creation) toward climate chaos and grave harm.”
Critics described the meeting as proof of “collusion” in the campaign against ExxonMobil.
That push has developed as several AGs -- most recently in Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands -- have launched their own investigations into claims that oil companies misled the public about the risks of global warming.
The company went to court Wednesday to try to block a subpoena by the Virgin Islands attorney general.
“The chilling effect of this inquiry, which discriminates based on viewpoint to target one side of an ongoing policy debate, strikes at protected speech at the core of the First Amendment,” the company’s court filing said, according to the Journal.
The newspaper reported that environmentalists want to encourage state prosecutors, as well as the Justice Department, to launch investigations.
“It’s about helping the larger public understand the urgencies of finding climate solutions,” Lee Wasserman, head of the Rockefeller Family Fund which hosted the January meeting, told the Journal. “It’s not really about Exxon.”
While the state investigations utilize different laws, they all aim to replicate the success of the federal government’s 1999 case against Big Tobacco, in which the industry was accused of misleading the public about smoking and nicotine risks.
Exxon representatives say the accusations against the oil giant are “laughable” and “not credible.”