Washington, D.C. Is Suing Exxon, BP, Chevron, and Shell — Here's Why

Washington, D.C. just filed a lawsuit against four major oil and gas corporations.

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Jun. 26 2020, Updated 2:41 p.m. ET

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Source: iStock

ExxonMobil’s legal department is having a very stressful week.

After the state of Minnesota sued the massive oil and gas corporation (among others), Washington, D.C. is following suit and suing four of the planet’s most polluting fossil fuel companies: ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, and Shell.

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Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine published the 101-page lawsuit on Thursday, June 25. In the lawsuit, Racine explains that for more than 50 years, the defendants have “systematically and intentionally misled consumers in Washington, DC about the central role their products play in causing climate change, one of the greatest threats facing humanity.”

He alleges that since the 1950s, ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, and Shell have been aware of the impacts that fossil fuels would have on the environment and people — but instead of publicizing that data and slowing down fossil fuel production, the defendants allegedly swept the information under the rug and consistently deceived the public, which has allowed them to rake in enormous profits.

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Throughout the lawsuit, Racine outlines more than 100 specific ways ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, and Shell have allegedly misled D.C. consumers over the years. 

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Throughout the lawsuit, Racine outlines more than 100 specific ways ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, and Shell have allegedly misled D.C. consumers over the years. 

In an email to Green Matters, Shell Spokesperson Anna Arata stated: "As the energy system evolves, so will our business, to provide the mix of products that our customers need and extend the economic and social benefits of energy access to everyone." She also stated that "lawsuits that masquerade as climate action and impede the collaboration needed for meaningful change" are ineffective in solving the climate crisis.

Chevron Spokesperson Sean Comey sent Green Matters the following statement: "The claims against the company are meritless. This type of litigation detracts from constructive efforts to address the important policy issues presented by climate change."

Green Matters also reached out to ExxonMobil and BP, and representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

And even though the public is far more aware of the impact of fossil fuels on the climate today than people were in the 1960s, Racine alleges that the defendants’ “coordinated campaign of disinformation and deception continues today, even as the scientific consensus about the cause and consequences of climate change has cemented.” As he explains, the oil and gas companies continually “falsely claim through advertising campaigns directed at DC consumers that their businesses are substantially invested in lower carbon technologies and renewable energy sources.”

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However, according to the lawsuit, each company’s investments in the renewable energy sector are minimal, and they continue to expand fossil fuel production at worrying rates, despite knowing that their products are polluting the planet, warming the globe and, and hurting people — primarily, communities of color and low-income communities, as explained by Green America.

“For decades, these oil and gas companies spent millions to mislead consumers and discredit climate science in pursuit of profits,” Racine said in a press release. “The defendants violated the District’s consumer protection law by concealing the fact that using fossil fuels threatens the health of District residents and the environment. [The Office of the Attorney General] filed this suit to end these disinformation campaigns and to hold these companies accountable for their deceptive practices.” 

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As recompensation for these alleged wrongdoings, the lawsuit demands a trial by jury, and that a judge order the defendants to pay restitution to those harmed as well as civil penalties.

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Just one day earlier, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced a lawsuit against ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the trade association American Petroleum Institute (API).

These are not the first lawsuits to call attention to alleged deception in the fossil fuel industry. Over the past few years, various concealed reports from decades past have been uncovered, allegedly proving that oil and gas corporations were aware of their impact on the environment — you can learn more about this on the website Exxon Knew.

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