Even thought big oil knew FOR DECADES it was destroying the planet, deniers still spin conspiracy theories

  • Published on March 23rd, 2021

A study published last month found air pollution from fossil fuels was responsible for one in five deaths in 2018. It was a dramatic finding, but it wasn’t exactly surprising for those in the field. Especially, it turns out, to Big Oil itself. As early as the 1960s, Oliver Milman reports at the Guardian, “the oil industry began to grasp the damage to health caused by the burning of fossil fuels.”

Exxon knew about climate change and the deaths caused by their products.

By Climate Denier Roundup

So, like any responsible corporate citizen, it immediately began taking the necessary steps to eliminate emissions and clean up its products.

Just kidding! They kept “studying” the problem, continuing to find causes for concern, until the 1990s, when the science was crystal clear that particulate matter, or PM2.5, from combustion, was a serious threat. Then they ramped up the denial (which is why they’re in court!)

For example, a full 31 years after Canadian Exxon subsidiary Imperial Oil LTD’s own public relations assessment wrote that the industry is a “major contributor to many of the key forms of pollution,” accepting their product’s polluting nature, an Exxon report was written to deny its product’s polluting nature, and claimed “there is no substantive basis” for thinking PM2.5 was lethal.

By 2006, the tobacco industry lawyers who cooked up the “secret science” rule to evade PM2.5 regulations on behalf of that industry had worked their way into the climate denial network, working on the fossil fuel industry’s behalf. The invitation of Chris Horner and Steve Milloy to a Heartland Institute conference in 2006, which featured a number of Exxon speakers, is one illustrative example.

And sure enough, they’re still at it. While Milloy’s attempts to gum up the EPA have been pretty quickly undone already, and their Paris goose chase has proven fruitless, Horner’s schtick as a FOIA filer is about to become much more valuable now that people who actually want to protect public health and the environment are in charge of the EPA again.

Horner, as you may recall, was in a bit of a financial spat with a fellow denier, but mostly has spent years filing vexatious information requests against climate scientists and champions in the government. Having taken money from coal companies to do so, he’s effectively weaponizing public transparency laws by requesting emails as a matter of public record, then only releasing snippets and quotes out of context to try and manufacture another climategate-esque controversy.

And because they lack the integrity of the Wall Street Journal’s newsroom, the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board was eager to play its part in spinning up a controversy out of nothing.

Well, presumably nothing. Maybe there is something to their tin-foil-worthy allegations that “emails reveal the strategy behind” a new regulation, “Biden’s ‘BackDoor’ Climate Plan,” the headline teases.

But unlike basically every other story about FOIA’d emails, the WSJ, for some reason, declines to publish them in full, instead quoting directly only a sentence that’s actually downplaying the plan in question as not being ideal, and then a single word from the emails, “backdoor,” to describe an idea for reducing carbon emissions by tightening ozone regulations. If the WSJ editorial board were a normal, respectable journalistic operation, it would probably disclose those emails in full, so that readers could verify for ourselves that the meetings discussed a nefarious plan to do this, and not, as it seems, an idea that was floated and shot down.

Instead, they spin a creative conspiracy theory that’s basically incomprehensible without logging a few hours in the denier equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to understand “sue and settle” and such terms of denial art.

Fortunately, Milloy makes it easy, summarizing that if Democrats in the Senate used the Congressional Review Act (which they’ve repeatedly said they have no plans to do) to repeal Trump-era ozone NAAQs, then Biden’s EPA would have to redo the standards, and because they “claim there is no safe exposure to ozone,” the EPA could set the standard at zero and the agency would have “effective and arbitrary control over the entire economy, especially fossil fuel use.”

Milloy’s denial of pollution’s health problems makes him incapable of seeing it, but what he’s admitting here is that there’s no amount of fossil fuel use that doesn’t hurt human health. So while the EPA is probably not about to enact this dramatic plan — given that the fossil fuel industry has had fifty years to clean up its act but instead wasting its time in denial — maybe it’s time the EPA got as creative about reducing pollution as the industry is in lying about it.

(Originally appeared at DailyKos.)

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