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US Supreme Court refuses to block Healey’s bid to investigate ExxonMobil

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

The US Supreme Court has refused to hear ExxonMobil’s bid to prevent Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey from investigating whether the oil giant covered up its knowledge about the role its products have played in warming the planet.

The high court on Monday said it had denied certiorari in the case of Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Healey.

“The law is clear. The Attorney General’s Office has the authority to investigate Exxon’s conduct toward consumers and investors, and we are proceeding. The public deserves answers from this company about what it knew about the impacts of burning fossil fuels, and when,” attorney general’s spokeswoman Chloe Gotsis said in a statement.

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A Massachusetts Superior Court judge had ruled in 2017 that ExxonMobil must turn over 40 years of documents on climate change. The company appealed. But the state Supreme Judicial Court upheld the lower court’s order in 2018. ExxonMobil then tried to get the US Supreme Court to step in.

An ExxonMobil spokesman had no comment.

“Today’s decision is yet another defeat for Exxon in their fight to hide the fact that they have known for 50 years that their products cause climate change,” Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity in Washington, D.C., said in a statement.

“This latest decision brings great momentum in the fight to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for causing the climate crisis. We thank Attorney General Healey for her vigilant leadership in standing up for people over polluters,” Thanu Yakupitiyage, communications manager for the environmental group 350.org, said in a statement.

“Executives at Exxon knew about climate change decades ago, but they chose to lie to the rest of us to line their oily pockets,” said Yakupitiyage.

In March 2016, Healey had issued a “civil investigative demand” seeking information under state consumer protection law, arguing ExxonMobil may have deceived Massachusetts consumers and investors. In response, the company sued Healey in federal and state courts.

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In January 2017, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Heidi Brieger dismissed the lawsuit and ordered the company to comply with Healy’s order.

In upholding the lower court judge’s order, the Supreme Judicial Court in April 2018 rejected ExxonMobil’s arguments that Healey was biased and that state courts lacked jurisdiction in the case.

Gotsis said a separate case by ExxonMobil against Healey’s office was dismissed by a federal judge in New York City, but that decision has been appealed to the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals, which will likely hold arguments and issue an opinion.

But she said that the US Supreme Court denial Monday reinforced one of the state’s claims in the federal case — that the state court ruling precludes Exxon’s federal claims.


David Abel of the Globe staff contributed to this report.