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New York sues Exxon Mobil for underplaying risks of climate change

Former Exxon CEO — and one-time secretary of state — Rex Tillerson is directly implicated in the lawsuit.
Exxon Refinery in Baton Rouge
The Exxon Mobil refinery as seen from the top of the Louisiana State Capitol Building on March 8, 2014 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.Julie Dermansky / Corbis via Getty Images file

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against oil and gas giant Exxon Mobil, alleging the company misled investors about the risk that climate change regulations posed to its bottom line.

If successful, the lawsuit could cost the Texas-based multinational hundreds of millions of dollars. Shares fell by around 2 percent on the news.

Underwood claimed Exxon improperly reassured investors that it was accounting for increasingly stringent regulation of greenhouse gas emissions when assessing investments, calculating the value of the company's reserves and resources, and making other major decisions.

In fact, the $333 billion company was "intentionally and systematically underestimating or ignoring" climate change risks, Underwood said in a statement.

The alleged fraud reaches the highest levels of the company, with former Chairman and Chief Executive Rex Tillerson — who served as President Donald Trump's secretary of state for just over a year — directly implicated, according to the complaint.

Underwood said Tillerson allegedly knew for years about the company’s misrepresentation, which was being showcased through a second set of proxy costs — a stand-in for any future costs related to greenhouse gas regulation — that were lower than the publicly disclosed costs.

The lawsuit, which was filed with the New York Supreme Court on Wednesday, calls for Exxon to return profits made through the “longstanding fraudulent scheme,” prohibits Exxon from further misrepresentation and orders restitution to investors.

New York is the latest plaintiff to file suit against the multinational corporation for misleading investors over climate change, with Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands suing the company in 2015.

"The company looks forward to refuting these claims as soon as possible and getting this meritless civil lawsuit dismissed," Exxon Mobil told NBC News in a statement.