VERMONT: Climate Lawsuit Targets Exxon, Shell, Sunoco, CITGO

MONTPELIER, Vermont, October 2, 2021 (ENS) – Vermont Attorney General Thomas J. Donovan Jr. has filed a consumer protection lawsuit against several big fossil fuel companies for deceptive and unfair practices and messages about the connection between fossil fuels and climate change. The lawsuit names as defendants Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil, Sunoco LP, CITGO Petroleum, and related companies.

The lawsuit alleges past and ongoing violations of Vermont’s Consumer Protection Act for concealing crucial information and disseminating misleading statements and advertising about fossil fuels and climate change.

The State of Vermont contends that the corporations knew about the potential warming effects of greenhouse gas emissions caused by fossil fuel since the 1960s and yet have continued to promote their products while “obfuscating and downplaying climate dangers,” Donovan’s office said.

“For years, these companies have misled the public about the real and significant impacts of fossil fuels on our environment and public health,” said Attorney General Donovan. “Vermont consumers were given false and misleading information about the dramatic effects of these products on the climate. Vermonters have a right to accurate information in order to make informed decisions about the products they purchase.”

The lawsuit alleges, “They have known for decades that the Earth’s climate has been changing because of emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, and that the fossil fuels they sell are the primary source of those emissions. And they have long known that the harm to the climate that has already occurred, and the further harm still to come, would be virtually inevitable so long as they could market their fossil fuel products to consumers in Vermont and elsewhere without honestly informing those consumers about the climate impacts of the products.”

Filed in the Vermont Superior Court the civil lawsuit seeks to prevent the fossil fuel corporations from engaging in further unfair or deceptive acts and practices.

The State is seeking to force these corporations to take steps to rectify their prior and ongoing actions, including future disclosures about the role of fossil fuels in climate change at every point of sale in Vermont.

The lawsuit also seeks “disgorgement by the corporations of all funds acquired as a result of unlawful acts or practices,” and statutory civil penalties under the Vermont Consumer Protection Act.

The lawsuit describes a more recent “greenwashing” campaign by defendants to portray themselves and their products as benefiting the environment and helping to solve climate change, when in fact they continue to remain major sources of the problem.

The complaint states, “By the 1990s at the latest, Defendants had amassed an overwhelming and irrefutable body of research indicating that the use of their fossil fuel products was a leading cause of climate change and that failure to reduce usage would lead to potentially catastrophic effects to the climate, the environment, and the global economy, including significant changes in sea level, weather and ocean currents, extreme precipitation and drought, and resulting impacts on and loss of ecosystems, communities, and people.”

“Defendants also knew, through their own internal research or information obtained through their participation in industry trade groups, that by the time global warming became detectable it could be too late to take effective measures to mitigate these effects or stabilize the situation to prevent severe adverse consequences for the environment,” the complaint alleges.

“Rather than disclose this knowledge, Defendants spread disinformation to consumers in Vermont and elsewhere with the goal of depriving them of the ability to make fully informed choices about the purchase and consumption of Defendants’ fossil fuels,” the lawsuit states.

In bringing this action, the State of Vermont says it does not seek relief that would force Defendants to discontinue, reduce, or eliminate their extraction or production of fossil fuels, or eliminate the sale of Defendants’ fossil fuel products to Vermont consumers or impose limits on the quantities sold here. Nor does the State seek to make Defendants pay for environmental degradation or remediation in Vermont.

The entire extent of the State’s request to the court is to enforce the statutory requirement under state law, the Vermont Consumer Protection Act, that “Defendants sell their products to Vermont consumers on the basis of fair and honest disclosures, free of unfair and deceptive acts and practices.”

Featured image: Shell gas station for sale in Rutland, Vermont (Photo courtesy Loopnet)

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