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Exxon Probed by New York in Toughest U.S. Climate Crackdown Yet

Joe Carroll and Christie Smythe, Bloomberg

New York’s decision to probe climate change disclosures by Exxon Mobil Corp. marks the most aggressive state action yet on the financial effects of burning fossil fuels.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a subpoena to the company on Wednesday seeking a lengthy list of documents and disclosures, including communications with trade associations and industry groups, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the probe isn’t public. The request seeks information dating from the 1970s to the present, the person said.

The investigation is seeking information on whether the world’s biggest oil explorer lied to investors and the public for almost 40 years about the impact of climate change on profits, the person said. As a manufacturer of 10 million gallons of gasoline and other fuels every hour of every day, Exxon is one of the world’s largest sources of carbon-heavy energy. Environmental activists cheered New York’s action, calling for more agencies to join the probe.

Schneiderman “is leading the charge to further expose the hypocrisy of fossil fuel companies like Exxon Mobil and hold them accountable for denying climate change to the public and blocking necessary action for decades,” Greenpeace spokesman Rodrigo Estrada said in an e-mailed statement. “New York has taken the first step, now other attorneys general should follow suit to protect the rights of the American people against big polluters from lying to them about climate change and its impacts on our communities.”

The probe follows a series of investigative articles by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times newspaper during the past two months alleging Exxon’s scientists discovered evidence that man-made emissions were damaging the climate as far back as 1977.

The reports spurred calls for investigations by a panoply of politicians and activists from Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to Al Gore and U.S. Representative Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

‘Reject’ Allegations

Scott Silvestri, an Exxon spokesman, said Thursday in a statement, “We unequivocally reject allegations that Exxon Mobil suppressed climate change research contained in media reports that are inaccurate distortions of Exxon Mobil’s nearly 40-year history of climate research.”

Long a hard-line opponent to climate-friendly carbon limits, Exxon began to soften its outlook and embrace the need to curb greenhouse gases in 2006 when Rex Tillerson succeeded Lee Raymond as chairman and CEO. Since 2009, the Irving, Texas-based company has advocated a revenue-neutral carbon tax as the fairest way to cap harmful emissions.

The company’s $35 billion takeover of XTO Energy in 2010 was inspired in part by expectations that stricter climate rules would spur natural gas demand as a replacement for dirtier coal.

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