Exxon Tells New York to ‘Put Up Or Shut Up’ in Climate Probe

(Bloomberg) -- Exxon Mobil Corp. told a judge that New York’s attorney general should either sue the company for misleading investors about the financial impact of climate change, or close its probe and move on.

"They should put up or shut up," Exxon’s lawyer, Theodore Wells, said at a hearing Wednesday in New York state court in Manhattan. "We are ready to confront any complaint."

The remark was part of a heated exchange between lawyers for Exxon and New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood about the production of internal corporate documents sought by the state, pertaining to a variety of exploration and chemical projects. New York argues there’s evidence that Exxon for years used two sets of numbers -- one public, one private -- to calculate the future financial impact of climate change, with investors given the rosier figures.

"This cannot go on interminably," Justice Barry Ostrager told the attorney general’s lawyers at the start of the hearing. "You’ve been investigating for two years, so either you’re going to file a case, or you’re not going to file a case."

"We are coming to an end in our investigation," Manisha Sheth, a top lawyer for Underwood’s office, responded. Underwood’s office has repeatedly argued that Exxon’s tactics have delayed the probe.

Ostrager ordered Exxon to turn over as many as 14 cash-flow spreadsheets detailing the finances of various global projects as well as any documents the company turned over to the Securities and Exchange Commission as part of a related investigation, but that haven’t already been given to New York.

There’s "smoking gun" evidence, Sheth said, that justifies the continued digging for Exxon documents before a decision is made on whether to sue. She said there’s evidence suggesting former Exxon Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson was aware of the discrepancy in the so-called proxy cost numbers, and that he "seemed happy" with it.

The Irving, Texas-based company has long argued the case was politically motivated, having been coordinated behind the scenes with other Democratic-led states and environmental groups hostile to Exxon. Wells made that point again Wednesday.

"They brought this case for political reasons and now they’re backed into a corner," he said.

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