New Jersey sues oil companies for deceiving public about climate change

N.J. wants the fossil fuel industry to pay for the impacts of climate change, files lawsuit over climate disinformation.

attorney general matt platkin speaks at a podium

File photo: Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. (N.J. Governor’s Office)

This story is part of the WHYY News Climate Desk, bringing you news and solutions for our changing region.

From the Poconos to the Jersey Shore to the mouth of the Delaware Bay, what do you want to know about climate change? What would you like us to cover? Get in touch.

New Jersey filed a lawsuit against five oil companies and a trade organization, saying the companies knowingly deceived the public about their contributions to global warming.

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin said internal industry documents show Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil, Chevron, BP, and ConocoPhillips all hid their knowledge that burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“Based on their own research, these companies understood decades ago that their products were causing climate change and would have devastating environmental impacts down the road,” said Platkin in a statement. “It’s long overdue that the facts be aired in a New Jersey court, and the perpetrators of the disinformation campaign pay for the harms they’ve caused.”

The lawsuit alleges the trade group, American Petroleum Institute, designed public relations campaigns aimed at convincing the public that climate change does not exist and creating confusion and doubt about the role of oil and gas.

New Jersey says this drove continued fossil fuel use that has already devastated the state’s coastal communities with rising seas and increasingly severe storms, along with extreme heat.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and the Division of Consumer Affairs joined the Attorney General’s office in filing the complaint in Superior Court in Mercer County.

“Our shore communities have had to rebuild boardwalk landmarks, construct large dunes and devise other engineering solutions to recover from and respond to devastating storms,” said Cari Fais, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

The complaint alleges the companies violated the Consumer Fraud Act through a disinformation campaign that began in the 1980s. It also says the defendants had a legal obligation to warn consumers about the impacts of fossil fuel use.

A spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute (API) defended the industry’s efforts to cut its carbon emissions and said the lawsuit‘s claims are false.

“The record of the past two decades demonstrates that the industry has achieved its goal of providing affordable, reliable American energy to U.S. consumers while substantially reducing emissions and our environmental footprint,” said API spokesman Scott J. Lauermann.

Citing rising gas prices, a New Jersey business lobby also criticized the lawsuit, claiming it would hurt consumers.

“At a time when gas prices are once again on the rise and America’s energy security is of the utmost concern, it is unsettling that the state has decided to pursue this litigation,” said New Jersey Business and Industry Association lobbyist Ray Cantor. “Energy is essential to our modern economy and our way of life. Reliable, affordable energy runs our factories, heats and cools our homes, and powers our transportation sector.”

The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the companies and API to halt their public relations campaigns along with monetary penalties and damages to help restore protective wetlands and protect residents from future impacts of global warming such as sea level rise and destructive storms.

Get the WHYY app!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal