ST. PAUL — Minnesota's Attorney General Keith Ellison is suing fossil fuel giants ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and Koch Industries for what he calls their "decades-long campaign of deception" on climate change.
Ellison on Wednesday, June 24 filed the lawsuit Ramsey County, arguing that the defendants knew about climate change science and its correlation with fossil fuel use, but "strategized to deceive the public (...) in order to safeguard their business interests." He also accused the companies of violating Minnesota state laws banning consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices and false advertising.
Ellison said through their promotions and sales of fossil fuels, the defendants "have harmed Minnesotans’ health and our state’s environment, infrastructure and economy" — particularly low-income and minority communities, as well as farmers, who are disproportionately impacted by climate change and extreme climate events, he said.
"Holding these companies accountable for the climate deception they’ve spread and continue to spread is essential to helping families to afford their lives and live with dignity and respect," Ellison said. "It’s only fair that, as our complaint states, ‘the parties who have profited from avoiding the consequences and costs of dealing with global warming and its physical, environmental, social, and economic consequences, bear the costs of those impacts, rather than Minnesota taxpayers, residents, or broader segments of the public.’”
Ellison's lawsuit seeks restitution for "the devastating consequences of climate change" and an injunction on the companies from violating such consumer protection laws in the future. He also asks the defendants to fund a "corrective public education campaign on the issue of climate change," as administered and controlled by an independent third party.
In Wednesday's complaint, Ellison said that internal experts at ExxonMobil, API and Koch had warned corporate leadership of climate change and "what was coming." But Ellison said the companies subverted their "duty" to warn the public, they launched a "multi-pronged campaign of deception that the companies and API conducted over the past 30 years."
"During this same period, ExxonMobil and Koch earned hundreds of billions of dollars in profits while Minnesota shouldered the costs and consequences of unmitigated climate change," Ellison said in Wednesday's news release.
In a written response to Ellison's lawsuit, API Chief Legal Officer and Senior Vice President Paul Afonso told Forum News Service that over the past two decades, "the industry has achieved its goal of providing affordable, reliable American energy to U.S. consumers while substantially reducing emissions and our environmental footprint. Any suggestion to the contrary is false.”
Flint Hills Resources — a Koch Industries company named as a defendant in the suit — said Wednesday that they are still reviewing the lawsuit. But they said they are "one of the safest and most efficient refineries operating in the United States," and that the company has put nearly $1.7 billion toward emissions-reducing upgrades in recent years.
State environmental advocates applauded the lawsuit. Minnesota Environmental Partnership Executive Director Steve Morse said in a Wednesday news release that "it’s about time that these multinational corporations are held accountable for the harm that they’ve wrought."
“Through its lobbying, greenwashing, and misleading advertising, these oil conglomerates have been complicit in the growth of the climate crisis," Morse said. "Attorney General Ellison’s litigation on behalf of Minnesotans is a welcome defense of our lives and our values, and we hope it will lead the way for other measures to hold these companies responsible for their deception.”
Isaac Orr, an energy and environment policy fellow with the Center of the American Experiment, on the other hand, said Wednesday's lawsuit will likely be "a gigantic waste of taxpayer money." He said 80% of energy consumed by Minnesotans is generated through fossil fuels because they're the most affordable option, and that "our standard of living would fall immediately without these vital energy resources."