New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin (center) announced on Oct. 18, 2022 that the state is taking legal action against major oil and gas companies to hold them accountable for climate damages to the state. Also pictured: Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette (left) and Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs Cari Fais (right).
ExxonMobil and several other major oil companies facing a barrage of climate liability lawsuits from U.S. cities, counties and states were served with yet another legal complaint last month, from the state where Exxon originated and remains incorporated.
On Tuesday, October 18 New Jersey became the seventh state thus far to bring a lawsuit against Big Oil for allegedly misleading the public on climate change, disseminating disinformation for decades that effectively staved off policy responses and aggravated the costly impacts of the climate crisis currently unfolding. The case was filed in New Jersey Superior Court in Mercer County, a state court, and names ExxonMobil, BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Shell, and the trade association American Petroleum Institute (API) as defendants.
“Based on their own research, these companies understood decades ago that their products were causing climate change and would have devastating environmental impacts down the road,” said New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “They went to great lengths to hide the truth and mislead the people of New Jersey, and the world. In short, these companies put their profits ahead of our safety.”
Platkin announced the lawsuit at a press conference from Liberty State Park in Jersey City, a location that was inundated with five feet of water during Superstorm Sandy in late October 2012, nearly 10 years ago to the day. The storm devastated the state, claiming 38 lives and costing $30 billion in property damage. These kinds of catastrophic extreme weather events were foreseen consequences of unabated fossil fuel consumption, yet instead of responsibly acting on this knowledge and disclosing it to the public, the fossil fuel industry downplayed the risks and tried to discredit the science, New Jersey’s complaint contends.
“Defendants not only failed to warn the public but they lied to us for decades to cover it up,” Attorney General Platkin said during the October 18 press conference. “If you lie to the public to protect your profits we will hold you accountable.”
The lawsuit includes claims of failure to warn and negligence as well as trespass, public and private nuisance, impairment of the public trust, and violations of New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. In addition to civil penalties, monetary damages and disgorgement of profits unlawfully acquired, the state is seeking injunctive relief to stop the defendants’ deceptive behavior. Their misleading conduct is ongoing, the state argues, with pervasive greenwashing campaigns portraying their products as “clean” and “lower carbon” and advertisements that misrepresent their commitment to renewable energy.
Cases with similar claims of consumer fraud against oil majors like Exxon are currently pending in a handful of states including Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Vermont as well as the District of Columbia. More than a dozen cities and counties, from Honolulu to Hoboken, have also filed lawsuits to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their role in driving the climate crisis. Hoboken, which was submerged during Sandy, brought its case in September 2020, and now the state of New Jersey is following suit.
The state will have a long road ahead of it. The other climate liability cases have been mired in procedural battles, some for years, and no case has yet made it to trial aside from a New York case alleging Exxon misled investors, which a judge subsequently dismissed. But New Jersey is not afraid to take on this fight.
In the words of Attorney General Platkin: “To the companies that have been lying to us for decades, I say we’ll see them in court.”