'Polluters must pay': Senators urge Biden DOJ to sue Big Oil over decades of climate lies
"Thanks to the illegal lies of the fossil fuel industry, climate change is wreaking catastrophic damage upon the United States," four progressive U.S. senators write in a new letter.
A group of progressive U.S. senators on Monday urged President Joe Biden's Justice Department to take legal action against the fossil fuel industry over its deliberate efforts to "mislead consumers and discredit climate science in pursuit of massive profits."
"The actions of ExxonMobil, Shell, and potentially other fossil fuel companies represent a clear violation of federal racketeering laws, truth in advertising laws, consumer protection laws, and potentially other laws, and the department must act swiftly to hold them accountable for their unlawful actions," reads a letter that Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The senators pointed to recently unveiled records that show Shell knew as soon as the early 1970s that burning fossil fuels could cause climate change—knowledge that was not reflected in their public messaging and advertising. Exxon also knew about the link between fossil fuels and climate change in the 1970s but publicly cast doubt on such a link and funded groups peddling climate denial.
"Despite these companies' knowledge about climate change and the role their industry was playing in driving carbon emissions, they chose to participate in a decadeslong, carefully coordinated campaign of misinformation to obfuscate climate science and convince the public that fossil fuels are not the primary driver of climate change," the senators wrote in their letter to Garland.
"To coordinate their illegal misinformation campaign, the fossil fuel industry funded a multimillion-dollar plan through the American Petroleum Institute that sought to make climate change a 'non-issue,'" the senators continued. "According to this plan, 'victory will be achieved' when 'recognition of the uncertainties [in climate science] become part of the 'conventional wisdom.' Exxon, whose climate predictions from the 1970s have proved remarkably correct, was a primary contributor to this plan."
"Like with Big Tobacco, the fossil fuel industry's illegal, coordinated campaign of misinformation has proven tremendously profitable."
The oil and gas industry's efforts to mislead the public about climate change "bears a striking resemblance" to the tobacco industry's campaign of lies about the dangers of cigarettes, the senators argued. In 2006, major U.S. tobacco companies were found guilty of violating civil racketeering laws and making deceptive statements about their products.
"Both industries have used the same public relations firms and researchers since the 1950s," the senators wrote Monday. "Like with Big Tobacco, the fossil fuel industry's illegal, coordinated campaign of misinformation has proven tremendously profitable. From 1990 to 2019, the six largest private fossil fuel companies made $2.4 trillion in profits."
"Thanks to the illegal lies of the fossil fuel industry, climate change is wreaking catastrophic damage upon the United States," the senators added. "Floods, droughts, extreme weather disturbances, and wildfires are causing unprecedented damage. Deloitte estimates that unchecked climate change, driven by the fossil fuel industry, could cost the United States $14.5 trillion over the next 50 years... Polluters must pay."
Dozens of U.S. cities and states have sued the oil and gas industry in recent years, part of a growing global wave of climate lawsuits aimed at holding fossil fuel giants accountable in the face of worsening extreme weather and government inaction.
The Biden Justice Department recently filed a Supreme Court brief siding with local governments in Colorado in a climate lawsuit against oil companies, but the administration has yet to take legal action of its own.
In their letter on Monday, the senators implored the Justice Department to "join the fight and work with partners at the Federal Trade Commission and other law enforcement agencies to file suits against all those who participated in the fossil fuel industry's illegal conspiracy of lies and deception under federal racketeering laws, truth in advertising laws, consumer protection laws, and any other applicable federal law."
"The future of our planet depends on it," they wrote.
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