Connecticut Files Consumer Fraud Suit Against ExxonMobil

Statement by Peter Frumhoff, Director of Science and Policy, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Sep 14, 2020

WASHINGTON—Connecticut Attorney General William Tong filed suit against ExxonMobil today for misleading Connecticut consumers about its products’ climate change impacts, alleging that the company violated the state’s Unfair Trade Practices Act. The lawsuit seeks remedies including repayment of costs the state has incurred and will incur related to climate damages and adaptation, disgorgement of corporate profits related to ExxonMobil’s deceptive acts, and funding to establish an independent climate education fund to correct climate disinformation.

Below is a statement by Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“Attorney General Tong was right to file suit. There’s no question Exxon knew about and lied to consumers about the harm its products are causing. As a result, communities in Connecticut and across the world are facing far greater climate damages and costs from impacts such as sea level rise today.

“Exxon’s climate deception dates back to at least the 1960s, when the American Petroleum Institute acknowledged the ‘catastrophic consequences’ of fossil fuel pollution but failed to inform consumers or take actions to address the problem. Exxon’s own researchers warned more than forty years ago that energy strategies needed to change within the decade to limit heat-trapping emissions and the resulting harm. The company knew it would have to adjust its business model to protect communities’ health and safety and avoid catastrophic climate change. Instead, Exxon embarked on a multi-million-dollar campaign to sow doubt about the causes of climate change and left its consumers to clean up its mess.

“We know that a company scientist’s 1978 internal memo warned Exxon management that its fossil fuel products were driving climate change, and that ‘hard decisions’ about energy strategies might be needed within five to 10 years. We also know ExxonMobil and other oil companies in the American Petroleum Institute developed a strategy in 1998 to reach the media, public and policy makers with a message emphasizing ‘uncertainties’ in climate science.

“While bald-faced climate change denial by corporations has gone out of fashion, sophisticated and well-funded industry disinformation campaigns continue today. ExxonMobil continues to mislead consumers by making false claims about the ‘greenness’ of its operations and products in a desperate attempt to win public favor. Make no mistake, despite the PR rhetoric Big Oil’s investment in clean energy solutions is minute in comparison to its continued drilling, fracking and flaring that greatly endangers frontline communities.

“This case comes on the heels of lawsuits brought by more than 20 state and local governments against fossil fuel companies and trade associations for their role in the climate crisis. The sheer number of suits alleging fraud or seeking payment for damages speaks to the commitment of local officials to stop these companies from lying about their products and blocking policies that would curtail fossil fuel emissions and climate damages to their communities.”

Additional Resources:

  • See a June 2019 poll that found 57 percent of people in Connecticut believe fossil fuel companies are responsible and should pay for global warming damages.

  • Read the groundbreaking 2007 UCS report “Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco's Tactics to ‘Manufacture Uncertainty’ on Climate Change” and the 2015 UCS exposé “The Climate Deception Dossiers: Internal Fossil Fuel Industry Memos Reveal Decades of Disinformation,” which spotlights what Exxon knew about climate change decades ago—and what it did despite what it knew.

  • See UCS-led research showing how much global average temperature increase, sea level rise and [ocean acidification](https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2019-12/Environmental Research Letters publication.pdf) can be traced to emissions from the products of ExxonMobil and other major fossil fuel companies.

  • See the 2018 UCS report “Underwater: Rising Seas, Chronic Floods, and the Implications for US Coastal Real Estate,” which found 4,486 Connecticut homes that house more than 10,000 people and are worth more than $3.4 trillion will likely be effectively inundated by climate change-driven sea level rise by 2045. That would mean a $52 million loss in local property taxes, according to the report.

  • For more information on Connecticut’s climate impacts, see the UCS “Killer Heat” analysis, which found that by midcentury the state could experience the equivalent of about two weeks per year on average when the heat index—or “feels like” temperature—exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the equivalent of a month or more by the century’s end. Historically, Connecticut has not averaged any days with a heat index above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.