Sep 17, 2021 News
…US Prosecutor alleges decades of misleading fossil fuel information.
Kaieteur News – Vermont’s Attorney General, T.J. Donovan, has filed court litigation against Exxon Mobil Corporation and the Shell Oil Company in the U.S. State of Vermont’s Court on Tuesday last, alleging the companies misled the citizens there for decades with marketing that conceals the contributions to climate change and the harmful effects of burning their fuels.
The lawsuit in Vermont Superior Court, Chittenden Civil Division, is the latest of about two dozen similar ones by States and Local Governments, from Rhode Island to Honolulu, that are seeking monetary relief over claims that oil majors harmed them, as they downplayed or misrepresented how the fuels they sold exacerbated the environmental risks tied to climate change.
According to international reports, Vermont’s lawsuit seeks the disgorgement of all profits the companies made as a result of any unlawful practice in the State, and makes the claim that Exxon, Shell, and a handful of fuel distributors violated Vermont’s Consumer Protection Act, with their advertising and statements at gas stations, on their websites, and on social media.
An Exxon Mobil spokesperson, Casey Norton, has since dismissed the claims as “baseless and without merit.”
According to Norton, “legal proceedings like this waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change.”
AG Donovan in a statement said: “Vermonters have a right to accurate information, in order to make informed decisions about the products they purchase.”
The State of Vermont alleges that the companies have known for years, through their internal research, about “the central role of their fossil fuel products” on climate change, but obscured their connection to climate change in marketing materials, in order to avoid losing their Vermont consumers.
Citing Exxon’s website, the complaint says, for example, that the Irving, Texas-based company claims its Synergy-branded fuel will help “‘reduce CO2 emissions,'” but it fails to mention that the fuel remains a significant contributor to climate change.
CO2 or carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that is released when fuel is burned.
The harmful effects of climate change, to which the companies’ products have contributed, range from rising sea levels to extreme precipitations and droughts, the complaint says.
Vermont is also asking the court to impose fines on the defendants.
According to reports, over the past two years, attorneys general from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, the District of Columbia, and Delaware have all sued members of the fossil fuel industry in State courts, accusing them of violating State laws by deceiving consumers about harms caused by their products.
Earlier climate lawsuits by cities, including Baltimore and California’s Imperial Beach have accused oil and gas majors of causing a public nuisance by selling their products.
A United Nations climate panel said last month in a landmark report that the world is already certain to face further climate disruptions for decades.
Exxon is facing similar climate change related legal action domestically when two Guyanese, through their lawyers, in May last filed a case in the High Court against ExxonMobil’s Stabroek Block projects.
The legal team consists of Attorneys-at-Law, Melinda Janki and Mr. Ronald Burch-Smith, with support from Richard Lord, QC, at Brick Court and Joshua Jackson of Cloisters in the UK.
According to the case, which lists Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, SC, as a representative for the State, the High Court is being asked to determine whether ExxonMobil’s operations violate the Constitutional right of current and future generations to a healthy environment.
The first applicant, Dr. Troy Thomas, is a scientist and a University of Guyana lecturer. The second applicant, Quadad DeFreitas, is a young man from the South Rupununi Region of Guyana, an area rich in biodiversity, now threatened by climate change.
According to Dr. Thomas: “Guyana is a carbon sink. The Guyanese people are not responsible for climate change, but we are already suffering the effects. Climate change, ocean acidification and rising sea levels pose existential threats to the people and State of Guyana. As a scientist, I urge people to look at the evidence and to face reality.”
The case cites Guyana’s international obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, in support of its claim for declarations that emissions from oil and gas production make the environment more harmful to health and wellbeing in violation of Article 149J of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to a healthy environment, and requires the State to protect the environment for present and future generations.
Article 149J specifically states that: (1) everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to his or her health or well-being. (2) The State shall protect the environment, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures designed to – (a) prevent pollution and ecological degradation; (b) promote conservation; and (c) secure sustainable development and use of natural resources, while promoting justifiable economic and social development.
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