Argues decades of deceit put Massachusetts communities in harm’s way
September 29, 2016 (BOSTON, MA) – Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) filed a lawsuit today against ExxonMobil for its endangerment of communities along the Mystic River – the first lawsuit of its kind in the nation since revelations last year about the corporation’s decades-long campaign to discredit climate science. Today’s filing comes several months after CLF submitted a formal letter of intent to sue ExxonMobil, a development that was announced at a press conference in May. The suit focuses on Exxon’s violations of both the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), laws designed to protect the health and safety of waterfront communities in the face of climate change.
“For more than three decades, ExxonMobil has devoted its resources to deceiving the public about climate science while using its knowledge about climate change to advance its business operations,” said CLF president Bradley Campbell. “Communities were put in danger and remain in danger, all to cut costs for one of the most profitable corporations in the world. It’s time to make Exxon answer for decades of false statements to the public and to regulators and ensure that its Everett facility meets its legal obligation to protect thousands of people and the Boston Harbor estuary from toxic water pollution.”
In March of this year, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey joined a coalition of 17 attorneys general seeking to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for campaigns to deceive customers, shareholders, and the public about climate risk. While CLF is the first organization officially to begin a civil lawsuit against ExxonMobil for this deceit, many other legal actions are likely to follow.
Damali Vidot, Chelsea City Councilor-At-Large, commented, “As a mom and a representative of my community, I feel I have a responsibility to protect my kids and those I serve against the impacts of pollution in our water. I’m standing with CLF today because I believe Exxon must be held accountable for its actions.”
CLF’s trial team for the case will include nationally renowned attorney Allan Kanner of the Louisiana-based Kanner & Whiteley, whose firm has represented states and other plaintiffs in landmark cases against major oil companies, including claims arising from BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill.
As the former Executive Director of Roxbury-based Alternatives for Community and Environment and current Director of CLF Massachusetts, I’ve spent my career fighting for environmental justice, including the challenges faced by the communities along the Mystic River. That’s why I am so excited to take on one of the biggest issues we face: pollution in the Mystic caused by big businesses dumping potent chemicals into our water.
Last fall, exposés by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times confirmed that oil giant ExxonMobil knew as early as the late 1970s that climate change caused by human activities would be devastating if left unchecked. But instead of taking action, the corporation lied to the government, and to all of us, by funding an aggressive campaign trying to foment doubt about climate science.
So we started our own investigation, focused on how this climate deceit has affected us closer to home. We found that despite knowing the harm climate change could cause, ExxonMobil left its oil storage facility in Everett, MA on the Mystic vulnerable to flooding from storms and rising seas. Now it’s just a matter of time before a giant storm floods our streets with a toxic soup from Exxon’s dilapidated facilities.
In an effort to finally hold ExxonMobil accountable for its climate deceit, gross negligence and violations of federal pollution regulations, CLF today officially filed suit against the corporate giant. It’s a landmark suit, and not only because it’s the first major lawsuit to be filed against the company since the #ExxonKnew revelations were uncovered.
While our case is strong, we know we have a difficult road ahead. This is a David vs. Goliath scenario, in every sense of the term: the residents being impacted by Exxon’s pollution are already at a disadvantage: lower-income, immigrant and communities of color like those along the Mystic have traditionally been denied the same access to resources as their wealthier counterparts and disproportionately over-burdened with pollution, creating an imbalance of power that Exxon has exploited. But as a lawyer and activist, I believe that our justice system cannot – and must not – be sold off to the highest bidder. CLF has the legal expertise, regional knowledge, and tenacity to go head-to-head with those who would pollute our air and water, harm our communities, and damage our climate, and we will stick with the local communities in this fight as long as it takes.
This case presents a tremendous opportunity for change, and the potential to set a precedent for the dynamic role of local advocacy in taking on transnational corporations. It also shows us that no company, organization or government agency is too big to be held responsible for its actions, and no one town or resident is too small or too weak to demand environmental justice. Whether it’s filing a case against Exxon or sitting down and talking local decision-makers, no action is too small to make a difference.
We have been living in Exxon’s shadow for too long, and we have had enough. The tide is turning and we’re moving away from fossil fuels. Communities are gaining power, and we demand justice and fairness. Every one of us deserves a clean, healthful environment. And we will be heard.
Learn more about the lawsuit here.