Environmentalists take on ExxonMobil in Massachusetts, beginning litigation charging the petroleum giant with intentionally hiding what they've known about the science of climate change for years and years.
Conservation Law Foundation President Bradley Campbell(@bradleycampbell) and Mystic River Watershed Association President EK Khalsaare fighting to prove ExxonMobil has knowingly operated their Everett, MA facility in a manner which contradicts safe and proper environmental practices, which has also led to the contamination of the Mystic River with carcinogenic material.
"We're using the federal and environmental laws, and the citizen's suits to say, 'Whatever else ExxonMobil may have done, they're not complying with the law in terms of making this facility ready for climate change,'" says Campbell.
In a statement to WGBH News, ExxonMobil responded to these allegations:
ExxonMobil believes the risk of climate change is clear and warrants action. We are taking action by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our operations, helping consumers reduce their emissions, supporting research and participating in constructive dialogue on policy options.
Campbell argues that ExxonMobil knew about their negative environmental impact decades ago, and took measures to hide the evidence with the intention of deceiving the public.
"There have been numerous investigations relying on Exxon's internal documents where their scientists have said, as early as the Nixon administration, that carbon dioxide emissions are the cause of global warming, that the consequences would be catastrophic, unless action was taken," says Campbell. "Even as their own scientists confirm the impact of climate change, they tried to tell the public otherwise."
ExxonMobil denies these claims:
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.
If ExxonMobil is not operating their Massachusetts facility according to environmental standards, the immediate danger could be contamination of local waterways like the Mystic River. Khalsa says ExxonMobil must consider the outcome of their actions:
"If climate change impacts arrive, as apparently ExxonMobil knows they will, this facility can be inundated by large-scale storms, or excessive precipitation. And all the contamination on their sites, and that's stored on sties, may be released into surrounding territory, including local neighborhoods and the Mystic River as well."
It's hard not to draw parallels between ExxonMobil and the cigarette industry of the mid-twentieth century. In both cases, companies are accused of knowingly endangering public health for years-- perhaps even putting out faulty science. Will ExxonMobil be the Lucky Strike of our generation?
"It's not only a direct parallel," Campbell contests, "[Exxonmobil] is in fact using the same playbook and the same players." By "same players," Campbell is referring to the lawyers and lobbyists ExxonMobil is using to fight their case-- some of whom have represented the tobacco industry in the past.
If the allegations against ExxonMobil prove to have merit, the company will have the U.S. government-- and hoards of angry citizens-- to answer to. So, why take such a risk to begin with?
"It's just about money," Campbell says. "If they had to harden and make all their facilities environmentally ready, it would be a big price tag. And so for them, they're essentially rolling the rice with the communities by saying, 'Well, we'll take the hit if this facility has a big release.'"
Now, ExxonMobil should prepare to go to bat with AG Maura Healey. In March, Healey said she was investigating claims that ExxonMobil knowingly deceived the public and investors about the effects of climate change.