Vermont sues 4 oil companies, alleges false info on climate

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 11:54 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2021 at 6:03 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont has become the latest state to sue some of the country’s top fossil fuel companies by alleging they misled the public about the impact their products have on climate change.

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan says Shell, Citgo, Sunoco and Exxon have misled customers for years with false information about the impact of fossil fuels on the environment.

The lawsuit claims the oil companies have engaged in misleading advertising campaigns and greenwashing, which is when you claim your product is more eco-friendly than it actually is.

“What we’re simply saying-- Vermonters have the right to know. Give Vermonters accurate information, put a label on the product and let Vermonters decide,” said Donovan, D-Vt. Attorney General.

Donovan is seeking disclosure of these environmental impacts at the pump. For example, a label explaining fossil fuel’s contribution to global warming.

“The label could be as simple as use and consumption of this product can contribute to climate change,” Vermont Assistant Attorney General Justin Kobler said.

This could be similar to the warning you see on a pack of cigarettes.

Donovan is also seeking civil penalties, which could mean up to $10,000 per violation as seen under the Civil Protection Act.

We reached out to all four companies. ExxonMobil issued a statement saying: “Legal proceedings like this waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change. ... The claims are baseless and without merit. We look forward to defending the company in court.”

It’s unclear what impact the lawsuit could ultimately have on the price at the pump.

Matt Cota of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association notes that most Vermont gas stations are locally owned even if they sell the gas of these major companies.

“So when you see a Shell station or a Mobil station, those stations are owned by a local Vermonter. And this lawsuit is not directed at them but at the large suppliers, producers and refiners,” Cota said.

I reached out to some local gasoline dealers but did not hear back before this story was published.

Vermont is not the first state to take this legal tactic, a similar case is pending in Connecticut.

As to whether the small state of Vermont is equipped to take on this lawsuit and win, Donovan says he may be a little too optimistic and maybe naive, but he looks forward to hearing from the companies.

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