The Attorney General of California, Rob Bonta, has filed an amended complaint to try to pressure the world’s biggest oil companies to relinquish the profits that the state claims they earned by misleading consumers about their contribution to climate change. 

On Monday, Bonta filed a lawsuit against the American Petroleum Institute (API), as well as BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell for profiting from their “illegal conduct”.  

The amended complaint, submitted in San Francisco County Superior Court, highlights additional instances of alleged false advertising and possible greenwashing by the oil companies. 

“Big Oil continues to mislead us with their lies and mistruths, and we won’t stand for that,” said Attorney General Bonta in a press release.  

He added that their “ongoing egregious misconduct is damning [and] will continue to vigorously prosecute this matter and ensure that Big Oil pays to abate the harm they have caused, and we will recover ill-gotten gains that will benefit Californians.” 

The lawsuit alleges that these companies engaged in “greenwashing”, falsely portraying their fossil fuel products as less environmentally damaging than they are.  

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The press release said that companies use terms such as “clean” and “green” to mislead consumers into believing that their products are more environmentally friendly than they truly are.  

“Defendants, and each of them, have made environmental marketing claims that are untruthful, deceptive, and/or misleading,” said the lawsuit.  

“Such misleading environmental marketing claims include, but are not limited to, such deceptive representations deceptively marketing fossil fuel products claimed to be ‘low carbon,’ ‘emissions-reducing,’ ‘clean’ and/or ‘green,’ or otherwise environmentally beneficial or benign,” the lawsuit added.  

However, in response, the API, the largest US trade association for the oil and natural gas industry, stated that the lawsuit was without merit. 

“This ongoing, coordinated campaign to wage meritless, politicized lawsuits against a foundational American industry and its workers is nothing more than a distraction from important national conversations and an enormous waste of taxpayer resources,” API General Counsel Ryan Meyers said in a statement, as reported by Reuters.  

“Climate policy is for Congress to debate and decide, not a patchwork of courts,” he added.  

Shell also stated that it did not believe climate change issues should be dealt with in court.  

“Addressing climate change requires a collaborative, society-wide approach,” the company said in a statement, as reported by Reuters

The lawsuit goes on to state that the companies promote the virtues of petroleum and natural gas products through API, which has – claims the lawsuit – made misleading statements about the societal and environmental impact of oil and natural gas.  

Major oil and gas companies have resisted activist shareholders’ calls for increased corporate climate action in the past few weeks.  

At the same time, US legislators have escalated investigations into whether the industry is engaging in deceptive behaviour. 

The current update in the lawsuit comes after UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres called on 5 June to ban advertising for oil, gas and coal companies, the primary contributors to global warming.  

“I urge every country to ban advertising from fossil fuel companies, and I urge news media and tech companies to stop taking fossil fuel advertising,” Guterres said during a speech in New York.