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California seeks company profits in Big Oil climate lawsuit

Published 06/10/2024, 04:56 PM
Updated 06/10/2024, 05:45 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Semi trucks drive past a giant U.S. flag displayed at Marathon Petroleum's Los Angeles Refinery in Carson, California, U.S., March 11, 2022. REUTERS/Bing Guan/File Photo

(Reuters) -California's attorney general on Monday sought to force the world's biggest oil companies to give up profits the state alleges they made while deceiving consumers about their role in contributing to climate change.

The legal action comes months after a new state law took effect that allows the attorney general to seek profits earned by companies while they violated laws against unfair competition and false advertising.

Attorney General Rob Bonta added the so-called disgorgement remedy to a lawsuit filed last year against Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM), Chevron (NYSE:CVX), Shell (LON:SHEL), BP (NYSE:BP), ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) and oil and gas industry trade group the American Petroleum Institute (API).

The suit, filed in state court in San Francisco, alleges the energy giants have caused tens of billions of dollars in damages and accuses them of deceiving the public.

API said the suit was without merit.

"This ongoing, coordinated campaign to wage meritless, politicized lawsuits against a foundational American industry and its workers is nothing more than a distraction from important national conversations and an enormous waste of taxpayer resources," API General Counsel Ryan Meyers said in a statement. "Climate policy is for Congress to debate and decide, not a patchwork of courts."

Shell also said it did not believe climate change should be addressed in court.

"Addressing climate change requires a collaborative, society-wide approach," the company said in a statement.

ConocoPhillips said it did not comment on pending litigation.

Exxon, Chevron and BP were not immediately available for comment.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Semi trucks drive past a giant U.S. flag displayed at Marathon Petroleum's Los Angeles Refinery in Carson, California, U.S., March 11, 2022. REUTERS/Bing Guan/File Photo

The filing comes days after United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on countries to ban fossil fuel advertising as many do for tobacco and other products that have proven harmful to human health.

In recent weeks, major oil and gas companies have fought back against activist shareholders urging more corporate climate action while some U.S. lawmakers have stepped up probes into whether the industry is behaving deceptively.

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