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Attorneys general vow to investigate companies over climate disclosures

A coalitionof attorneys general from 19 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have pledged towork together to combat climate change, including by potentially investigating whetherfossil fuel producers have misled investors on climate-related investment and planningimpacts.

The effortis being led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose state has investigated coal producer and oil giantExxon Mobil Corp. overtheir climate-related financial disclosures. At a March 29 press briefing, Schneidermancalled the coalition an "unprecedented multi-state effort" that will buildon the Obama administration's climate policies and allow states to get around Republican-ledresistance in Congress to carbon regulations.

"Withgridlock and dysfunction gripping Washington, it is up to the states to lead onthe generation-defining issue of climate change," Schneiderman said in a releaseaccompanying the press conference. "We stand ready to defend the next president'sclimate change agenda, and vow to fight any efforts to roll-back the meaningfulprogress we've made over the past eight years."

SNL Image

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (at microphone) announces a multistate climate coalition on March 29, 2016, with six other attorneys general and former Vice President Al Gore (second from left).

Source: New York Attorney General's Office

Schneidermanwas joined at the briefing by the attorneys general of Vermont, Virginia, Massachusetts,Maryland, Connecticut and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Several other states, includingIllinois, Washington and New Mexico, have also vowed support. The group is partof a coalition of 25 states and major cities that filed a brief March 29 in support of the U.S. EPA's Clean Power Planfor cutting electric power-sector carbon emissions, a regulation the Supreme Courtput on hold in early Februarypending the outcome of litigation.

The attorneysgeneral did not provide any details regarding ongoing or potential investigations,but New York, California, Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands have been involvementin similar probes, Schneiderman said. In November 2015, New York reached an with Peabody under whichthe company would disclose business projections, including coal prices, that theproducer made based on certain climate-related laws, regulations and policies. New York has also joined Massachusettsand the Virgin Islands to look into whether ExxonMobil deliberately misled investorson climate science and risks.

"Fossil fuel companies that deceived must be held accountable,"Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said. "That's why we too have joinedin investigating Exxon."

The multistate effort could extend to coal companies as well.Illinois, which is part of the coalition, is one the largest coal-producing statesand contains mines owned by some of the biggest U.S. producers, including .

But companies' financial disclosures are only one issue thatthe states may look at. Schneiderman noted the multitude of state laws and statutes,including tax codes, that could be used to prompt action on climate change. A "varietyof theories" exist on how states can collaborate, he said.

Some critical of the Clean Power Plan are concerned that thenew initiative is aimed at compelling states to comply with the rule despite theSupreme Court stay.

"I will strongly oppose efforts by anyone to bully job producersinto compliance with this illegal and unprecedented regulation," West VirginiaAttorney General Patrick Morrisey said March 29. "We reiterate that statesshould put their pencils down and not waste taxpayer dollars by coming into compliancewith a regulation that will not be upheld in court."

The state-led climate effort was announced shortly after U.S.Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the government is looking into possible civilaction against fossil fuel producers over their climate disclosures. Lynch the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committeeearlier in March that the U.S. Department of Justice referred evidence on a possibleviolation to the FBI, which will review the information to see if an investigationis warranted.