As New York State's shareholder suit against Big Oil for climate denial proceeds, Exxonmobil caught intimidating witnesses

In 2015, a deep investigative report from Inside Climate News revealed that as early as 1977, Exxonmobil knew that it was destroying the planet with CO2 emissions, and its response to that fact was to gin up a decades-long disinformation campaign aimed at sowing expensive doubt about the subject, even as it grew more certain of its facts.

Holding Exxonmobil to account for deliberately risking our planet and our species is tough sledding, but the New York Attorney General's office has hit on a promising strategy: punishing Exxonmobile for misleading its shareholders, because anthropogenic climate change has massive implications for the share price of oil companies, and by withholding its growing certainty on the subject, the oil giant had tricked shareholders into buying overpriced shares in the company.

Now, Exxonmobil has been caught intimidating the state's witnesses, sending letters that threaten to expose any witness's own internal files to subpoenas from Exxonmobil, a process that could prove ruinously expensive and potentially compromising.

The latest tussle in court was prompted by a set of letters that Exxon sent to witnesses in early July, saying that if they decided to testify, Exxon would use a subpoena to seek documents.

The letter included in the court filings notes that the witnesses cannot be compelled to testify, but "nonetheless may be willing to testify." It says "please let us know" if you choose not to testify, and adds that if the witness does testify, "ExxonMobil is entitled to discovery concerning her relevant knowledge."

At least one witness, Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow, an advocacy group dedicated to increasing corporate sustainability through shareholder engagement, received the specific document request. It asked for any documents related to the witness's investments in ExxonMobil or other oil and gas companies, as well as documents related to the investment criteria for these holdings.

Exxon also asked for copies of communications with the attorney general's office discussing the case or climate change, and any communications with a list of lawyers, academics, advocacy groups and foundations that have supported climate change lawsuits against the oil and gas industry.

Exxon Accused of Pressuring Witnesses in Climate Fraud Case
[Nicholas Kusnetz and David Hasemyer/Inside Climate News]

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(Image: Johnny Silvercloud, CC BY-SA)