The top attorneys from Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands said Tuesday they will investigate whether Exxon Mobil Corp misled investors and the public about the risks of climate change.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Earl Walker announced their probes at a news conference in New York, flanked by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and top attorneys from other states.
They said their probes into Exxon will be similar to ones launched by New York and California.
Healey said fossil fuel companies that have deceived investors about the risks climate change poses to the planet "must be held accountable."
Walker said he wants to ensure there is transparency so consumers can make informed choices about what they purchase.
"If Exxon Mobil has tried to cloud their judgment, we are determined to hold the company accountable,” he said.
Exxon believes the probes are "politically motivated," said Suzanne McCarron, the company's vice president for public and government affairs.
"We are actively assessing all legal options," she said.
A total of 17 U.S. attorney generals are cooperating on probes into whether fossil fuel companies have misled investors on climate change risks. The officials will also collaborate on other climate-related initiatives.
In November, Schneiderman requested extensive financial records and emails from Exxon in connection with its climate change disclosures. California Attorney General Kamala Harris followed suit in January.
A coalition of more than 20 states has filed an amicus brief in support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, a rule to crack down on carbon emissions that has been challenged by industry and 25 states in a federal appeals court.
The probes were triggered by investigative reports last year by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times that showed the company's in-house scientists had flagged concerns about climate change decades ago, which the company ignored or contradicted.
Investors have also started to target Exxon over the climate issue. Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that Exxon must include a climate change resolution on its annual shareholder proxy.
The Rockefeller Family Fund said last week it will divest from fossil fuels as quickly as possible and "eliminate holdings" of Exxon.
Gore, an active climate policy advocate, joined the attorney generals at the announcement, calling it a "turning point" in a broader effort to hold fossil fuel companies accountable. He said efforts by fossil fuel companies to downplay climate change were akin to the way the tobacco industry promoted smoking for years in spite of health warnings.
Exxon's unusually long and pointed statement criticizing the probes said the company recognized the risks posed by climate change, arguing that any assumption it withheld information on the topic is "preposterous" and based on a "false premise that ExxonMobil reached definitive conclusions about anthropogenic climate change before the world's experts and before the science itself had matured, and then withheld it from the broader scientific community."