Minnesota Fraud Lawsuit Against Fossil Fuel Industry Follows State Legacy of Holding Opioid, Tobacco and other Industries Accountable for Misleading Consumers

Lawsuit First to Sue Koch Industries for Climate Deception

Published Jun 24, 2020

WASHINGTON (June 24, 2020)—Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison today filed a lawsuit in state court against ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute (API) for intentionally and systematically misleading Minnesota consumers about the climate risks of fossil fuels through deceptive trade practices, false statements in advertising and other violations of state statutes. The lawsuit most closely resembles a consumer and investor fraud lawsuit filed last October by the Massachusetts attorney general in state court against ExxonMobil as well as fraud lawsuits led by past Minnesota attorneys general against opioid and tobacco companies.

Since 2017, over a dozen cities, counties and states have filed lawsuits against fossil fuel companies for climate damages and most have survived multiple attempts by ExxonMobil and other defendants to block them. Less than one-third of Minnesotans trust fossil fuel companies and more than half support fossil fuel companies paying their fair share of global warming damages, according to a June 2019 poll.

Below is a statement by Rachel Licker, a Midwest-based senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“The science linking the burning of fossil fuels to climate change is as settled as the link between smoking and cancer. Even ExxonMobil’s own scientists warned their managers more than 40 years ago of ‘potentially catastrophic events’ as a result of continued fossil fuel production and use. A physicist shared similar concerns at an API-organized 100th anniversary party for the U.S. oil industry as far back as 1959. But rather than alerting the public or taking action, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, API and its peers funded decades-long disinformation campaigns designed to cast doubt on the science and delay climate action.

“Minnesotans are already being saddled with the mounting costs of climate change. Extreme precipitation is wreaking havoc on farms and as the state’s winters warm at almost twice the national rate, these higher temperatures are impacting ice fishing and other iconic winter activities. Attorney General Keith Ellison, like his predecessors, is working to ensure that no industry, especially one of the world’s most powerful, is above the law.”

To read the strategy that a group organized by API developed in 1998 to confuse the public, policymakers and the media about climate change by emphasizing “uncertainties” in climate science, click here.

For a compilation of 85 internal fossil fuel industry memos revealing a range of the industry’s deceptive tactics, including forged letters to Congress, secret funding of a supposedly independent scientist and the creation of fabricated grassroots organizations, click here.

For more documents revealing the deceptive tactics that the fossil fuel and tobacco industries borrowed from one another to shape public opinion and policy discussions, see the Center for International Environmental Law’s Smoke and Fumes database.