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ExxonMobil Case A Prime Example Of Politics Gone Too Far

New York’s attorney general is elected to the position, so there will be politics involved in the job.

But what has happened between New York state and Exxon over the past four years is an example of partisan tomfoolery at its worst.

In 2015, former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman began an investigation under New York’s Martin Act probing ExxonMobil officials for allegedly denying the impact of climate change on company assets. That investigation turned into a lawsuit alleging ExxonMobil had misrepresented the company’s financial risks regarding current and future climate change regulations to the public and, more importantly, to investors.

The lawsuit took different forms over the years as various legal theories propogated by the Attorney General’s office failed. Barbara Underwood, who was appointed state Attorney General after Schneiderman’s resignation, alleged ExxonMobil relies on lower estimates to comply with government regulations than the estimates it used to report costs to investors, saying the company lied internally while telling the truth publicly.

Attorney General Tish James then withdrew two counts of fraud while moving forward with two counts based on the Martin Act, which has a lower burden of proof than proving fraud. Even then, the state was unable to prove that the company made misrepresentations to investors and that there were consequences.

NPR used two ways to estimate the costs of climate change regulations, one for future climate change legislation and another for specific projects. Justice Barry Ostrager of the New York state Supreme Court ruled the state failed to prove that ExxonMobil made any material misrepresentations that would have defrauded a reasonable investor and that the testimony of ExxonMobil officials and experts laid waste to the Attorney General’s case.

For four years, three different state attorneys general — all three Democrats — have wasted state taxpayers’ money on a flimsy case. Does anyone wonder what the state would have done with the $1.6 billion it was trying to get from ExxonMobil? It would have given the money to subsidize ExxonMobil’s environmentally friendlier, yet more costly, technology to make ExxonMobil’s competition appear more financially viable.

How ironic.

If the public needs an example of abuse of power from a political figure, here is a prime one. One of the involved attorneys general has already resigned in disgrace, perhaps his replacement should be “impeached.” Politics will always be part of an attorney general’s job. They are elected, after all. But the ExxonMobil debacle is an example of politics gone too far in the attorney general’s office.

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