The New York State Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Exxon must comply with a subpoena issued as part of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s climate fraud probe, following up on allegations that Exxon lied to investors regarding climate change and the risks involved with carbon emissions. Another subpoena, issued this past August, calls on Exxon to provide documents related to accounting firm PwC’s work for the company.
On Wednesday, the attorney general’s office said that Exxon had not allowed PwC to hand over the documents, on the basis that a statute in their home state of Texas establishes an accountant-client privilege. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barry Ostrager rejected this interpretation, and ruled that New York law applies, which does not recognize any such accountant-client privilege.
Attorney General Schneiderman praised the ruling, and said his office was looking forward to “moving full-steam ahead with our fraud investigation of Exxon.”
He added that “Exxon had no legal basis to interfere with PwC’s production, and I hope that today’s order serves as a wake up call to Exxon that the best thing they can do is cooperate with, rather than resist, our investigation.”
Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for ExxonMobil, said that his company respectfully disagrees with the court’s decision, and plans to appeal the ruling. Earlier this month, Exxon asked a federal court to block Schneiderman’s subpoena, claiming that investigations by him and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey are “biased attempts to further a political agenda for financial gain.”
Exxon maintains that they have publicly acknowledged the reality of climate change for over a decade, and have cooperated with investigations. Exxon has already handed over more than a million documents in relation to the subpoena, which was noted on the recent court order.
However, the company has also argued that Schneiderman’s office is “simply searching for a legal theory, however flimsy, that will allow him to pressure ExxonMobil on the policy debate over climate change.”
Furthermore, Exxon is under a federal Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into their practice of not recording the value of their assets, and how Exxon values future projects when confronted with the reality of climate change and slumping oil prices.
Late last year, the Los Angeles Times and InsideClimate News reported that Exxon officials, who were aware of the seriousness of carbon emissions and climate change, funded research to cover up the risks involved. Additionally, the Center for International Environmental Law found documents indicating that oil companies, including the company that later became ExxonMobil, were aware of a possible link between fossil fuels and carbon emissions as early as 1957.