The New York attorney general's office this week began looking into Exxon Mobil regarding the energy giant's statements on climate change.
The New York Times, citing sources with knowledge of the investigation, reported that Attorney General Eric Schneiderman subpoenaed financial records, emails and other documents from the Texas-based company.
The inquiry reportedly aims to determine whether Exxon's public statements about climate change were at odds with the findings of its own internal researchers, as well as whether the company effectively lied to the public or to its shareholders.
The probe follows a call last month for a Justice Department investigation of Exxon Mobil from two California lawmakers.
U.S. Reps. Ted Lieu and Mark DeSaulnier cited a Los Angeles Times report, which found that Exxon officials downplayed climate change projections despite company research that evaluated its potential impact on arctic drilling operations.
The congressmen suggested that the statements could violate a number of laws, including those governing corruption, consumer protection and public health.
The company's top lobbyist responded that its research was transparent and "mirrored global understanding" at the time.
Vice President of Public and Government Affairs Ken Cohen reiterated that stance this week and said that the company is weighing how to respond to the subpoena.
“We unequivocally reject the allegations that Exxon Mobil has suppressed climate change research,” Cohen told the Times.
The Times also indicated that Schneiderman's office began investigated coal producer Peabody Energy two years ago over its disclosure of financial risks stemming from climate change.
Schneiderman has broad authority to investigate financial fraud under the state's Martin Act, and the investigations could result in either criminal or civil charges.
Analysts told the Times that the effort could pour unprecedented resources into investigations of fossil fuel companies. Should other attorneys general take similar stances, the resulting litigation could mirror previous multi-billion-dollar lawsuits against tobacco companies.
“In some ways, the theory is similar — that the public was misled about something dangerous to health," University of Virginia law professor Brandon Garrett told the Times. "Whether the same smoking guns will emerge, we don’t know yet.”