As ExxonMobil Corp.’s trial for misleading investors about climate-change risks unfolds in New York, two former scientists in Washington D.C. told a congressional subcommittee that the company decades ago chose to ignore evidence they turned up about the risks.

Exxon worked to bury his research, Martin Hoffert, a former Exxon consultant and a professor emeritus of physics at New York University, said this week at the congressional hearing. He called the efforts “immoral” and “greatly set back efforts to address climate change.” 

Hoffert said Exxon shut down a carbon dioxide research program he worked on from 1978 to 1983 and sold off its lithium-battery arm to focus on fossil fuels, according to InsideClimate News.

Hoffert and geochemist Ed Garvey testified in Washington while Exxon went on trial on charges that the company defrauded shareholders by misrepresenting how regulation of carbon emissions would affect its financial outlook.

Uncovering what Exxon knew about climate change risk may open floodgates for suits from other states and entities dealing with environment-driven floods, droughts, wildfires and heat. Discovery from the trial and congressional testimony also may affect policies ranging from the Green New Deal to carbon taxes, and put the spotlight on other fossil-fuel companies.

The allegations against the oil company surfaced in 2015 in articles by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times.  Exxon said at the time that its scientists “were among the first to grapple with the fact that there might be a connection between the carbon dioxide emissions from humanity’s use of fossil fuels and climate fluctuations” and “we have remained committed to pursuing climate change research since that initial discovery.”  

Exxon “provided false and misleading assurances” that it was effectively managing the risks to its business posed by stricter climate-change regulations, according to the complaint filed by New York’s attorney general. “Exxon employed internal practices that were inconsistent with its representations, were undisclosed to investors, and exposed the company to greater risk from climate change regulation than investors were led to believe.”

Exxon, when reached for comment, referred Karma to a statement on its website calling the allegations “false.” 

“We tell investors through regular disclosures how the company accounts for risks associated with climate change,” the statement read. “We are confident in the facts and look forward to seeing our company exonerated in court.”

  • The trial, which has drawn climate-change protesters to the Manhattan courthouse, is expected to last three weeks.
  • New York’s case against Exxon boils down to its use of accounting methods — a “proxy cost” for carbon in annual calculations predicting global energy demand and its use of a metric for estimating climate taxes on specific projects — Bloomberg reported.
  • Massachusetts sued Exxon yesterday, citing “deceptive advertising to Massachusetts consumers and for misleading Massachusetts investors about the risks to Exxon’s business posed by fossil fuel-driven climate change,” according to a statement from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office.
  • The lawsuit, which Exxon called “gamesmanship,” was filed several hours after a judge rejected Exxon’s motion to delay it until the New York trial finishes, Reuters reported.