SEC Probe Called Possible 'Moment of Reckoning' for Exxon's Climate Crimes

In what is being hailed as “a remarkably important development,” the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has reportedly launched an investigation into whether Exxon Mobil deliberately deceived investors over the long-term value of its fossil fuel assets in light of the climate crisis.

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 Citing “people familiar with the matter,” the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that “[t]he SEC sought information and documents in August from Exxon as well as the company’s auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. The federal agency has also been receiving documents that the company submitted as part of a continuing probe into similar issues begun last year by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.”

In addition to “examining Exxon’s longstanding practice of not writing down the value of its oil and gas reserves when prices fall,” the federal probe “is also homing in on how Exxon calculates the impact to its business from the world’s mounting response to climate change, including what figures the company uses to account for the future costs of complying with regulations to curb greenhouse gases as it evaluates the economic viability of its projects,” the Journal reported.

Reporters Bradley Olson and Aruna Viswanatha said the investigation “represents an escalation of the legal questions Exxon faces over its past and future response to climate change.” Further, they observe that the probe “may also signal the opening of a new front of climate-related regulation and enforcement at the SEC, a direction with far-reaching consequences for the oil and gas industry.”

Environmental activist and co-founder Bill McKibben agreed that this marked “a remarkably important development” in the effort to hold the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company accountable for decades of suppressing scientific evidence related to global warming.

“This investigation marks a moment of reckoning for the corporation. Coupled with attorneys general investigations into Exxon’s campaign of climate denial, the SEC’s probe means the corporation’s days of deception are numbered.”
—Katherine Sawyer, Corporate Accountability International