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Everything is bigger in Texas — including Exxon’s defeat
Exxon loses in Texas and Hawai‘i courts, while new reports shed light on the climate disinformation crisis.
Emily Sanders is the Center for Climate Integrity’s editorial lead. Catch up with her on Twitter here.
Quick note: Today’s edition was written before last night’s late breaking news. Like millions across the world, our thoughts today are with the people of Ukraine.
For now, here’s some EXXONKNEWS for you: Exxon has, once again, revealed its rear end in the courtroom.
The oil industry behemoth suffered a momentous defeat on its home turf last week — the end result of an attempt to harass and intimidate local elected officials and the communities they represent in lawsuits filed by California cities and counties. These suits seek to make Exxon and others help pay for the costs of rising seas, wildfires, flooding, and other climate damages it knew its fossil fuel products would cause.
On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court declined to consider Exxon’s allegations that the California municipalities’ lawsuits, which aim to hold the company accountable for lying about its products’ primary role in causing the climate crisis, are part of a widespread conspiracy to undermine Exxon’s First Amendment rights. 🙃
In 2018, Exxon filed a petition claiming that the company had been “targeted by state and local governments for pretextual investigations and litigation intended to cleanse the public square of alternative viewpoints.” Exxon asked Texas courts to allow it to use a state law, known as Rule 202, to go on a fishing expedition for internal documents from the California elected officials who filed the lawsuits.
After a Texas appeals court denied Exxon’s request in 2020, the company took its demands to the Texas Supreme Court, asking it to consider “potential violations of ExxonMobil’s rights in Texas to exercise its First Amendment privileges.” Last week, the court said no thank you.
Big Oil’s executives must be scratching their heads — if Exxon can’t bend the law to its will in Texas, home to its company headquarters, and after the Governor of Texas himself filed a brief in support of the company, where can it?
It’s not the first time that Big Oil has tried to make the argument that suing a company for lying violates its free speech. The First Amendment doesn’t protect corporations that mislead the public about their harmful products in order to protect their profits, of course. But as climate liability lawsuits continue to progress through the courts, Exxon and other oil giants are trying new avenues to harass and intimidate their critics rather than argue their case — likely because they don’t really have one.
Speaking of Big Oil’s modern-day climate deception: A new study confirmed that oil and gas majors’ climate pledges are more greenwashing.
We’ve been hearing a lot about Big Oil’s climate pledges and “net-zero commitments” after the House Oversight Committee held a hearing on the matter earlier this month, featuring expert witnesses who explained how the companies’ plans to reduce emissions are little more than a PR stunt, as their business models still revolve around fossil fuels.
New peer-reviewed research published in PLOS One last week backs those conclusions. Analyzing 12 years of financial data, the researchers found that, while Exxon, Chevron, BP and Shell were promoting their “commitments” to climate solutions, they were in reality ramping up oil production and exploration — in other words, continuing to pollute like it was going out of style. 👀
“Until actions and investment behavior are brought into alignment with discourse, accusations of greenwashing appear well-founded,” the researchers said.
Back during the first House Oversight hearing in October 2021, executives from these same companies refused to stop lobbying against policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The report is another reminder that Big Oil will never be a good-faith partner in solving the climate crisis it knowingly caused and continues to fuel today. Something to keep in mind when board members of the four oil giants attempt to defend their companies’ pledges before Congress next month.
The climate disinformation problem is clearly growing. On Wednesday, new research from the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that Facebook is still failing to label false and misleading information about climate change on their site.
The research is a follow-up to an analysis published by the group in November, which identified ten publishers — dubbed the “Toxic Ten” — who are responsible for a majority of the content in climate denialist posts on Facebook.
Last May, Facebook promised to place “information labels” on posts about climate change that appear on their platform. But CCDH’s latest research, which used a social analytics tool to review posts linking to 184 articles from the Toxic Ten containing false claims about climate change, found that Facebook had labeled only half of the posts linking to that content — all of which received over 1 million likes, shares and comments on the site.
“Climate change denial lies, designed to fracture our resolve and impede meaningful action to mitigate climate change, flow unabated on Facebook and Instagram,” CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed said in a statement. “The price of Mark Zuckerberg’s failure to deal with his platforms’ pollution of the information ecosystem is catastrophic damage to our physical ecosystem, including climate change, forced migration, drought and famine.”
In a call with reporters, Ahmed said that labeling posts was a bare-minimum action for Facebook to take, considering its limited effectiveness — and emphasized that 50% is a “failing grade.”
“For a company that says it cares about addressing climate change, it sure doesn’t look like Facebook is taking the issue seriously,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who has been outspoken about the deleterious effects of dark money front groups funding the spread of climate disinformation on behalf of the fossil fuel industry.
As part of its ongoing investigation into climate disinformation, the House Oversight Committee has promised to look into social media companies’ role:
To end on some better news, Big Oil lost another battle in court this week.
In another encouraging ruling this week, a Hawai‘i state judge rejected two of the arguments that Big Oil companies had put forward in an effort to dismiss Honolulu's lawsuit seeking to hold the polluters accountable for the cost of climate damages. As we covered previously, lawyers for Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell and others filed three separate motions to dismiss, but this week the court rejected two of them — one arguing that Honolulu had no legal basis to bring suit, and another from Chevron claiming the lawsuit violated the company’s First Amendment rights (sound familiar?).
“This is an unprecedented case for any court, let alone a state court trial judge. But it is still a tort case,” wrote Hawai‘i First District Judge Jeffrey P. Crabtree. “It is based exclusively on state law causes of action.”
We are still waiting for the court to rule on the third motion that Big Oil's lawyers put forward, but these initial rulings are an encouraging sign. Last year, a Massachusetts climate fraud suit against Exxon became the first of its kind to reach and survive a motion to dismiss. If Honolulu wins on the final outstanding motion, it would become the first climate damages suit to do the same, and the city and county's case would be one major step closer to reaching trial.
“On behalf of Honolulu’s taxpayers, we look forward to the opportunity to present our evidence at trial,” said Matthew Gonser, Chief Resilience Officer & Executive Director for the City and County of Honolulu’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency. “We are confident in the strength of our case."
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