Another Day, Another Dodgy Defense Of Exxon In The Wall Street Journal

If it’s a day that ends in “y,” then The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board is probably carrying ExxonMobil’s oily water.

In yet another misleading defense of Exxon’s documented deception about climate change, a July 7 Journal editorial asserted that it’s “hard to prove” that Exxon “defrauded shareholders by hiding the truth about global warming … when the company’s climate-change research was published in peer-reviewed journals.”

Exxon’s research confirmed that fossil fuels were causing global warming, but the Journal’s focus on the fact that Exxon published its research in scientific journals is a distraction. The issue at hand in the investigations of Exxon launched by the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts is whether Exxon officials violated the law by intentionally misleading investors and the public about climate change in order to achieve financial gain, regardless of whether its scientists published their findings elsewhere.

Indeed, The New York Times reported that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s investigation seeks to “determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how such risks might hurt the oil business,” and “whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks as recently as [2015] were consistent with the company’s own long-running scientific research.” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has similarly indicated that her investigation “seeks information regarding whether Exxon may have misled consumers and/or investors with respect to the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, and climate change-driven risks to Exxon's business.”

In other words, publishing research showing that fossil fuels are causing global warming but withholding that information from your shareholders  -- or even telling them that the science of human-induced climate change is uncertain -- could fairly be described as “hiding the truth.” And simply having published its scientific findings in journals wouldn’t get Exxon off the hook.

If the Journal’s defense of Exxon sounds familiar, it’s probably because you heard it straight from Exxon itself. When the New York investigation was announced last November, one of the claims put forth by Exxon’s then-vice president for public affairs, Kenneth Cohen, was that Exxon had “published dozens of scientific papers” on climate change.

That may be true, but time will tell if Exxon also committed fraud.