States team up to take on the fossil fuel industry

Last Updated Mar 29, 2016 5:10 PM EDT

A coalition of state attorneys general says it will work to curb climate change, including continuing a probe into whether Exxon Mobil (XOM) misled the public on the impact of burning fossil fuels.

"The participating states are exploring working together on key climate change-related initiatives, such as ongoing and potential investigations into whether fossil fuel companies misled investors and the public on the impact of climate change on their businesses," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. "New York is also investigating Exxon Mobil for similar alleged conduct."

The oil producer took to social media to defend itself, dismissing allegations that it deceived the public as "politically motivated and baseless."

AGs from California, Connecticut, District Of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington State and the U.S. Virgin Islands said they would coordinate efforts.

Environmental groups applauded the move, and expressed hope the federal government might also look into Exxon's actions.

"A natural next step for these AGs will be to confirm investigations in each of their states - as New York, California, Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands already have - into Exxon's colossal climate denial operation," Annie Leonard, Executive director, Greenpeace, said in a statement. "They can even spark a Department of Justice investigation, just as they did with Big Tobacco's deception on the link between smoking and cancer. "

In praising the effort, former Vice President Al Gore said in the AGs' press release: "The first-of-its-kind coalition announced today is another key step on the path to a sustainable, clean-energy future." Gore also chided Congress for its inaction on climate change, telling ThinkProgress.org, "Congress has been sharply constraining the ability of the executive branch to perform its duties."

After a two-year probe, Schneiderman's office late last year reached an agreement with Peabody Energy (BTU) to give more detailed disclosures about the financial risks it faced from government policies and regulations related to climate change. In 2013, Peabody released a study that concluded that CO2 helped plants and crops grow and described a federal interagency study on climate change as "close to useless."

Peabody, the nation's biggest coal producer, earlier this month warned it might have to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, joining a slew of rivals that have made the move in the last year.

While Schneiderman's probe of Exxon continues, heirs to one oil fortune have already reached their own conclusion. The Rockefeller Family Fund last week said it was liquidating its investments in Exxon and other fossil fuel companies, saying "there is no sane rationale for companies to continue to explore for new sources of hydrocarbons."

In a statement, the fund said: "Evidence appears to suggest that the company worked since the 1980s to confuse the public about climate change's march, while simultaneously spending millions to fortify its own infrastructure against climate change's destructive consequences and track new exploration opportunities as the Arctic's ice receded."