Sanders wants DOJ Exxon probe over climate fraud
Detailed revelations last month that Exxon officials have paid big bucks to deceive the public about the realities of global warming—even though their own researchers had told them the climate risks of burning fossil fuels more than three decades ago—have sparked loud calls for an official investigation. Citizen activists, a pair of House Democrats from California, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island are all seeking an investigation by the Department of Justice.
As noted here Tuesday by Climate Hawks Vote co-founder RLMiller, Sanders sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking that the Justice Department investigate these allegations, and take appropriate action if the investigation yields evidence of wrongdoing:
These reports, if true, raise serious allegations of a misinformation campaign that may have caused public harm similar to the tobacco industry’s actions—conduct that led to federal racketeering convictions. Based on available public information, it appears that Exxon knew its product was causing harm to the public, and spent millions of dollars to obfuscate the facts in the public discourse. The information that has come to light about Exxon’s past activities raises potentially serious concerns that should be investigated.
Months before Exxon’s internal documents in this matter were exposed by Inside Climate News in a six-part investigation that may very well bring the operation its second Pulitzer prize, Sen. Whitehouse and others had called for a civil federal racketeering lawsuit under the RICO statute to look into whether companies, including Exxon, have been defrauding the public. A key element of getting a favorable RICO outcome is proving that the companies knew they were lying.
On Tuesday, during his 115th speech on climate change, Whitehouse renewed that call and blasted a number of climate change charlatans who have been part of the decades-long efforts to deceive the public about global warming:
On May 6, I gave a speech here on the Floor. The speech compared the misinformation campaign by the fossil fuel industry about the dangers of carbon pollution to the tobacco industry’s misinformation campaign about the dangers of its product.The relevance of that comparison is that the United States Department of Justice, under the civil provisions of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute—RICO for short, brought an action against the tobacco industry. The United States alleged that the tobacco industry’s misinformation campaign was fraudulent. And the United States won, in a lengthy and thorough decision by United States District Judge Gladys Kessler.
After that May speech and a May 29 op-ed in the Washington Post, Whitehouse caught unholy hell from some of the very institutions and right-wing propagandists that have been lying about climate change for so long and have contributed to exacerbating the global warming crisis. Mincing no words, he said:
In the National Review, I was accused of wanting to launch “organized crime investigations … against people and institutions that disagree with [me] about global warming,” in order to “lock people up as Mafiosi.”“Crime”? “Lock people up”? Let’s remember, Mr./Madam President, that we are talking about civil RICO, not criminal. No one went to jail in the tobacco case. Investigating the organized climate denial scheme under civil RICO is not about putting people in jail. Query why the National Review would mislead people about such an obvious fact.
All a civil RICO case does is get people to have to actually tell the truth, under oath, in front of an actual impartial judge or jury, and under cross-examination—which the Supreme Court has described as “the greatest legal invention ever invented for the discovery of truth.” No more spin and deception.
But that’s exactly the audience polluters and their allies can’t bear, so the flacks set off criminal smokescreens and launch “fascist goon” and “Torquemada” hysterics. A few weeks ago, 20 scientists agreed with me, and wrote a letter to Attorney General Lynch supporting the idea of using civil RICO.
That was too much for the Troll-in-Chief for the fossil fuel industry: the Wall Street Journal editorial page. The Wall Street Journal editorial page has long been an industry science-denial mouthpiece. They use the same playbook every time: one, deny the science; two, question the motives of reformers; and three, exaggerate the costs of reforms.
The costs of this long-running deception and the inaction it promoted are immense. The impacts on our health, on our economy, and on our future are so great they are difficult to gauge.
But anyone who thinks Exxon or the Journal or the host of Koch-paid shills who have been smearing scientists and ridiculing the truth are going to stop their campaign of lies because of the latest exposé of their evil shenanigans should know better. Big Tobacco didn’t stop lying when it was first exposed. As Bill McKibben wrote in The Nation Tuesday:
And count on the fossil-fuel industry to continue trying to delay progress and obfuscate reality. Exxon is clearly flustered (its PR guy called the LA Times story “complete bullshit”) but unrepentant. They continue to demand favors from government, most recently a lifting of the longstanding ban on exporting American crude (“The sooner this happens, the better for us,” said Kenneth P. Cohen, Exxon Mobil’s vice president for public and governmental affairs informed The New York Times.) It remains to be seen if the world’s media will overcome their tendency to truckle and give this true scandal anything like the oxygen it poured on those few hapless e-mails [of the so-called Climategate “scandal.”
Whitehouse pointed Tuesday to several books that dug into the climate deception well before Exxon’s internal documents were revealed. These include Naomi Oreskes’s Merchants of Doubt, David Michaels’s Doubt is Their Product, and Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner’s book Deceit and Denial.
As Gaius Publius wrote last month:
Don’t be confused. It’s going to take force to defeat the fossil fuel companies. We’re not in a debate with them, we’re in a battle. It will take an exercise of power to make the Kochs and the Exxons stand down. Battle means weapons—the weapon of public opinion, yes, but stronger ones too, the strongest we can find.
A RICO investigation would be just one element of that force. A couple hundred other members of Congress should publicly join Sanders and Whitehouse calling for one.