Connecticut on Monday joined a growing coalition of states and cities suing oil and gas giants for allegedly concealing their contributions to climate change from consumers.
State Attorney General William Tong announced his lawsuit, which specifically targets ExxonMobil, at the Canal Dock Boathouse on the New Haven Harbor, a location designed, he said, to withstand the sea level rise to which ExxonMobil’s business practices have directly contributed.
The Nutmeg State’s lawsuit, to be heard in Superior Court in Hartford, centers on Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act. The act, unlike laws under which other states have filed suit, has no statute of limitations, meaning that Tong’s team can introduce decades’ worth of evidence in court.
Tong alleges that Exxon violated the act by concealing information about the harmful effects of fossil fuels from the public for at least 70 years. Unlike the nearly two dozen lawsuits filed by other locales that sue multiple corporations under a variety of relevant statutes, Connecticut’s cited one corporation — ExxonMobil — and focused on past and present activities that the state’s lawyers say violate a single law.
“ExxonMobil knew that continuing to burn fossil fuels would have a significant impact on the environment, public health and our economy,” Tong said. “Yet it chose to deceive the public.”
Exxon has adamantly denied misleading the public about climate change and spokesman Casey Norton told the Hartford Courant that Tong’s claims are “baseless and without merit.”
But according to internal company documents cited in the filing, Exxon scientists told executives in 1978 that “man has a time window of five to 10 years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.” According to Tong, executives’ decision to invest in fossil fuels despite that advice — and to then portray themselves on the front lines of combating climate change — amounts to “deceptive, unfair and illegal” activity under state law.
The lawsuit seeks “remediation for past, present and future harm from climate change,” reimbursement for state expenditures related to climate change, a “third-party controlled” education fund and disgorgement of corporate earnings — meaning that Exxon would need to return all illegally earned profits if the judge rules in the state’s favor.
Tong did not specify a price tag — only a “significant, significant sum” — but compared the lawsuit to a 1998 Big Tobacco settlement that has yielded over $246 billion in damages over the past 20 years.
But there is a clear local price tag, Tong said. Joined by New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker and Connecticut Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection Katie Dykes, Tong pointed to tens of millions in state expenditures to curb rising sea levels on the Long Island Sound and protect against coastline erosion, among other climate change impacts.
Elicker underscored that city and state spending on climate — such as a $164 million wall to protect I-95, a $40 million pump station to drain stormwater in downtown New Haven and an $8 million project to protect the shores at Long Wharf — diverts funds from other priorities like improving public education and helping low-income residents.
In addition to Connecticut, Delaware and cities Hoboken, New Jersey, and Charleston, South Carolina, have filed climate-focused lawsuits in the past two weeks.
Mackenzie Hawkins | firstname.lastname@example.org