California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced on Monday that the state would seek to seize the “illegally obtained profits” of several big oil companies, as part of an amended lawsuit claiming that the companies falsely advertised the environmental sustainability attributes of their products, and of fossil fuels generally.

The amendment follows the launch of the suit by the AG in September 2023 against oil companies Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and BP, alleging that the companies carried out a decades-long “climate deception campaign” through public statements and marketing, aimed at denying and creating doubt about the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, despite knowing about the link between them since at least the 1960s.

The updated complaint applies a California law, AB1366, which authorizes the Attorney General to obtain a remedy of disgorgement of profits in cases of unfair competition and false advertising. Under AB1366, companies found to have violated the law would be required to deposit profits obtained through the violation into a new Victims of Consumer Fraud Restitution Fund, for use as restitution to victims of consumer fraud in the state.

The update also adds several instances of alleged greenwashing by the companies to the complaint, through which the state claims that the companies misleadingly portrayed themselves and their fossil fuel products as environmentally friendly, or less environmentally damaging than they actually are.

Examples of alleged greenwashing outlined in the case include Exxon’s marketing of its “Synergy” fuels as “clean” or “cleaner,” and its citing of the product’s CO2 reduction of CO2 emissions in advertisements. Similarly, the complaint cites Chevron’s marketing of its “Techron” fuel additive  as having “cleaning power” that minimizes emissions, and the company’s focus in marketing materials on “advancing a lower carbon future,” which the suit alleges are “likely to mislead reasonable consumers by suggesting that Chevron’s fuels are environmentally beneficial or benign, when they are not.”

Attorney General Bonta said:

“This much is clear: Big Oil continues to mislead us with their lies and mistruths, and we won’t stand for that. Their ongoing egregious misconduct is damning. We 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.”

In a statement provided to ESG Today, a Shell spokesperson said that the company does not believe that climate change should be addressed in the courtroom, but rather “that smart policy from government and action from all sectors is the appropriate way to reach solutions and drive progress.”

The spokesperson added:

“The Shell Group’s position on climate change has been a matter of public record for decades. We agree that action is needed now on climate change, and we fully support the need for society to transition to a lower-carbon future. As we supply vital energy the world needs today, we continue to reduce our emissions and help customers reduce theirs.”