The Justice Department has asked the FBI to determine whether a probe into Exxon Mobil Corp.’s climate change disclosures is warranted.
California Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu and Mark DeSaulnier had asked DOJ to look into whether Exxon violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, by failing to disclose truthful information about climate science to its investors.
Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik informed the two lawmakers in January that his department had referred their request to the FBI, DOJ’s investigative arm. News of the referral first appeared on InsideClimate News.
"The FBI will determine whether an investigation is warranted," Kadzik wrote the California Democrats in the letter obtained by Greenwire.
Some lawyers and politicians have suggested litigation against oil companies under RICO, which was previously used in a major lawsuit holding tobacco companies liable for covering up health risks linked to smoking (E&ENews PM, Feb. 10).
Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) is investigating whether Exxon lied to the public or to investors about the risks of climate science.
The investigation is probing the company’s actions dating back to the 1970s, including alleged efforts to fund groups that sought to undermine climate science (E&ENews PM, Nov. 5, 2015).
Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said today in a statement that the company "has included information about the business risk of climate change for many years in our 10-K, Corporate Citizenship Report and in other reports to shareholders."
Jeffers added, "Media and environmental activists have used publicly available materials from the company’s archives to deliberately distort ExxonMobil’s nearly 40-year history of climate research, which was conducted publicly in conjunction with the Department of Energy, academics and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."
He said, "To suggest that we had reached definitive conclusions, decades before the world’s experts and while climate science was in an early stage of development, is not credible."
Lieu, a former securities lawyer, said in a recent interview that he was certain Exxon had broken the law.
"The securities laws are very clear: If a company makes a misleading statement of material fact, or omits a material fact from their filings, they can be prosecuted," he said. "Exxon for decades has been misleading the American public; at the very least, omitting material facts from their disclosures about climate change."