By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has filed a major lawsuit against big oil companies.

The newly-filed lawsuit names ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and American Petroleum Institute. Ellison argues that these companies lied about the impact of their operations, pertaining to the subject of climate change.

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“When corporations and trade associations break the law and hurt Minnesotans, it’s my job and my duty to hold them accountable. The fraud, deceptive advertising, and other violations of Minnesota state law and common law that the lawsuit shows they perpetrated have harmed Minnesotans’ health and our state’s environment, infrastructure, and economy,” Ellison said.

The suit claims fraud against the companies cited, arguing that they violated Minnesota statues that prohibit consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices and false advertising, and did so for decades.

“They knew CO2 was going to go up because of burning fossil fuels, they knew it would cause climate change and they knew there would be negative catastrophic effects to the world and to Minnesota,” Ellison said.

The companies “earned hundreds of billions of dollars in profits while Minnesota shouldered the costs and consequences of unmitigated climate change,” Ellison’s office reports.

The suit argues the deception hurt all of Minnesota, including farmers like Martin Larsen.

“This is where my livelihood comes from, the weather and the climate,” Larsen said. “In that last 10 years I have seen these scars appear on my farm from the increased rainfall, the short-duration, high-intensity rain.”

Communities of color have also been disproportionately affected, the suit says.

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“The statement of ‘I can’t breathe’ is matched by a pattern of air inequality where we can’t breath as well. We have 11 toxic companies in North Minneapolis that are putting things in the air, soil and water,” Sam Grant, executive director with Mn350, said.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reports that the state’s climate warmed faster than both the national and global rates of increase, by 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit between 1951 and 2012.

WCCO’s Esme Murphy reports the suit is modeled, in part, on a 1998 suit against tobacco manufacturers, which ended with a $6.5 billion settlement. When then Attorney General Skip Humphrey and attorney Mike Ciresi announced they were suing big tobacco for violating Minnesota’s tough consumer laws, a lot of people were skeptical. For years that settlement has been paying for smoking education and cessation campaigns.

The attorney general’s office reports that there have been at least 15 other governmental entities that have filed similar lawsuits. Ellison would not say how much in damages he is seeking in damages but said it will be substantial.

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WCCO reached out to those being sued and did hear back from the American Petroleum Institute. A spokesperson said, “The industry has achieved its goal of providing affordable, reliable American energy to U.S. consumers while substantially reducing emissions and our environmental footprint. Any suggestion to the contrary is false.”

Esme Murphy