Pressure on Exxon Mobil and the energy industry has increased with the release of a new cache of decades-old industry documents about climate change, even as Exxon pushed back against efforts to investigate the company over its climate claims through the years.
The new documents were released by an activist research organization, the Center for International Environmental Law, which published the project on its website.
The documents, according to the environmental law center’s director, Carroll Muffett, suggest that the industry had the underlying knowledge of climate change even 60 years ago.
“From 1957 onward, there is no doubt that Humble Oil, which is now Exxon, was clearly on notice” about rising CO2 in the atmosphere and the prospect that it was likely to cause global warming, he said.
What’s more, he said, the documents show the industry was beginning to organize against regulation of air pollution.
The American Petroleum Institute, energy companies and other organizations had created a group, the Smoke and Fumes Committee, to monitor and conduct pollution research, and to “use science and public skepticism to prevent environmental regulations they deemed hasty, costly and unnecessary,” according to the center’s description of the documents on its website.
Those actions, Mr. Muffett suggested, would be echoed in later efforts to undermine climate science.
Earlier revelations by the center led to a surge in activism against the company and the energy industry, using the hashtag #exxonknew. The investigations also have been cited by attorneys general, including Eric T. Schneiderman of New York, who have demanded information from Exxon about its internal research and its funding of climate denial.
Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, called the new allegations absurd.
“To suggest that we had definitive knowledge about human-induced climate change before the world’s scientists is not a credible thesis,” he said.
Four attorneys general are investigating Exxon Mobil’s public statements and private scientific knowledge over the years, and the company struck back on Wednesday in a filing in Texas against Claude Earl Walker, the attorney general of the United States Virgin Islands, and a private law firm working with his office on the investigation.
The filing called Mr. Walker’s actions a “flagrant misuse of law enforcement power” that “violate Exxon Mobil’s constitutionally protected rights of freedom of speech, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, and due process of law and constitute the common law tort of abuse of process.”
The company, it noted, has no “physical presence” in the Virgin Islands, and its courts have no jurisdiction over the company.
In addition, the company stated, it has “widely and publicly confirmed” that it recognizes “that the risk of climate change and its potential impacts on society and ecosystems may prove to be significant.”
Kert Davies, the director of the Climate Investigations Center, a group funded by foundations seeking to limit the risks of climate change, said Mr. Muffett’s project “has pulled back the curtain on any plausible deniability that Big Oil might have pretended they had on the dangers of climate change.” And, he added, “the naked truth is pretty ugly.”
But Michael B. Gerrard, the director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School, said that the early stirrings of climate science have already been well documented.
“It has been known for years that scientists in that era were talking about climate change,” he said.