The City of New York has filed a lawsuit in state court against Exxon Mobil (XOM), Shell, BP (BP), and the American Petroleum Institute for allegedly misleading New York consumers about the role their products play in climate change and for allegedly “greenwashing” their practices to make them seem more eco-friendly than they are.
“Three of the largest oil and gas companies and their top industry trade association—have systematically and intentionally misled consumers in New York City…about the central role their products play in causing the climate crisis,” the lawsuit states. “They have engaged in this deceptive conduct both to compete against growing safer energy options and to distinguish themselves from industry competitors as they vie for consumer dollars.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the lawsuit during a press conference on Thursday, claiming that the companies and the API violated NYC’s consumer protection law.
“The petroleum industry created a multi-pronged, consistent greenwashing campaign in New York City to convince us of something that wasn’t true and was dangerous,” de Blasio said. “By presenting themselves as leading the way in the fight against climate change, while every single day, deepening the climate crisis through their actions, that contradiction, that falsehood has to be exposed and more pressure has to be put on this industry.”
A spokesperson for ExxonMobil pointed out that New York City recently had another climate lawsuit dismissed and that such actions “have no merit and do nothing to advance meaningful efforts that address climate change. We support global efforts from policymakers, companies, and individuals to develop real solutions.”
For its part, Shell released a statement that also pointed to the dismissal of the city’s recent lawsuit, saying this new one “is functionally the same.” It added that tackling climate change “requires smart policy from government supported by inclusive action from all business sectors, including ours, and from society as a whole” and that it intends to play a leading role in doing so.
The American Petroleum Institute’s senior vice president and chief legal officer, Paul G. Afonso, said in a statement that despite the recent dismissal of the city’s prior legal action, “New York City is now attempting to litigate other meritless issues with this lawsuit.”
He added that in the last 20 years “the industry has achieved its goal of providing affordable, reliable American energy to U.S. consumers while substantially reducing emissions and our environmental footprint. Any suggestion to the contrary is false.”
A representative for BP declined to comment.
Attorneys for the City of New York argue that the oil companies and the API, the oil and gas industry’s largest trade association, are using tactics similar to those of “Big Tobacco,” who they say “deceptively promoted “low tar” and “light” cigarettes as healthier smoking options, when they knew that any use of cigarettes was harmful.”
The lawsuit also alleges that “through advertisements, social media posts, and other promotional materials directed at NYC consumers, ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP falsely present themselves as corporate leaders in the fight against climate change, knowing that they can sell more products if they are viewed as environmentally responsible.”
Furthermore, attorneys for the city allege that while these corporations claim to also substantially invest in low-emission technologies and zero-emission renewable energy, “these investments constitute only a miniscule percentage of their total business.”
“In light of this discrepancy, these defendants mislead NYC consumers by presenting clean energy resources as a significant portion of their overall businesses, which instead continues to be overwhelmingly focused on fossil fuel production and sales,” the lawsuit states.
New York City’s Corporation Counsel, James Johnson, said Thursday that the lawsuit is primarily about getting companies to tell the truth about themselves and the products they sell.
“Consumers are entitled to make choices about a variety of things and many consumers are very concerned about climate change. And so for the oil companies to tell them one thing, when the truth is actually another…when every single purchase and use of gasoline actually contributes to the greenhouse emissions that lead to climate change, well that’s wrong, and it has to be stopped,” Johnson said.
The lawsuit seeks to permanently prohibit Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, and API from engaging in any acts that violence New York City’s consumer protection law, award civil penalties “in an amount to be proven at trial” and attorneys’ fees, and grant any other further relief that the court finds “just and proper,” according to the lawsuit.
Earlier this week, environmental law non-profit ClientEarth accused some of the world’s biggest oil firms, including Exxon Mobil and Shell, of misrepresenting the role their businesses play in the climate crisis and overstating the speed at which they are transitioning to clean energy sources.
ClientEarth commissioned investigative media outlet DeSmog to research advertising by major oil companies. It then compared claims made in ads to information published in annual reports, regulatory filings and on company websites. The non-profit contends that firms make claims of “sustainability” while investing far more into fossil fuel exploration than into clean energy investments.
–CNN’s Hanna Ziady and Matt Egan contributed to this report.