Will the Fossil Fuel Industry Face Racketeering, or Other Charges on Climate?
September 30, 2015
New installment of Inside Climate News’ earth-shaking-but-not-mainstream-cracking report on what Exxon knew, and when they knew it, on climate change. The new revelations reheat the simmering issue of whether fossil fuel companies, like tobaco companies before them, deliberately conspired to cover up what they already knew about climate change, and thereby are liable for huge societal costs.
Further down, Dana Nuccitelli discusses in the Guardian.
ExxonMobil may face renewed legal challenges from plaintiffs claiming that it should have acted to address the risks of climate change, based on new evidence that its own researchers warned management about the emerging threat decades ago.
In an online petition drive, in public statements and behind the scenes, environmental advocates and their political allies are pressing federal and state authorities to launch investigations, subpoenas or prosecutions to pin down what Exxon knew and when. The oil giant’s critics say Exxon might be held liable either for failing to disclose the risks to shareholders and financial regulators, or for manufacturing doubt to deceive people about the science of climate change.
“I think the case is already there to be made,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island. He has raised the possibility of a Justice Department investigation under federal racketeering law. A former prosecutor, he is one of the Senate’s leading voices for action to address the climate crisis.
Coinciding with the InsideClimate News revelations, a group of climate scientists sent a letter to President Obama, his science advisor John Holdren, and Attorney General Lynch, calling for an investigation “of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change.”
In 1999, the Justice Department filed a civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) lawsuit against the major tobacco companies and their associated industry groups. In 2006, US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the tobacco industry’s campaign to “maximize industry profits by preserving and expanding the market for cigarettes through a scheme to deceive the public” about the health hazards of smoking amounted to a racketeering enterprise.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has noted that the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to cast doubt on climate science closely mirror those by the tobacco industry. As Senator Whitehouse said in May 2015,
Imagine what a little discovery into the beast would reveal about the schemes and mischief of the climate denial apparatus—about what they’re telling each other in private while they scheme to deceive the public. The truth will eventually come to light. It always does.
Indeed, as the InsideClimate News investigation subsequently revealed, Exxon’s own scientists were warning of the dangers of human-caused climate change nearly 40 years ago. The parallels to the tobacco industry’s public deception are striking. It appears that many climate scientists have become fed up, and are encouraging the government to embark on a similar RICO investigation into fossil fuel industry efforts to mislead the public.
Senator Whitehouse and 11 colleagues also sent a letter to 108 CEOs of all member companies of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors asking about their positions on the Chamber’s efforts to undermine the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. The New York Times reported that the Chamber of Commerce was holding meetings with a group of about 30 corporate lawyers, coal lobbyists and Republican political strategists to devise a plan to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, months before it was even introduced.
Letter to President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, and OSTP Director Holdren
September 1, 2015
Dear President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, and OSTP Director Holdren,
As you know, an overwhelming majority of climate scientists are convinced about the potentially serious adverse effects of human-induced climate change on human health, agriculture, and biodiversity. We applaud your efforts to regulate emissions and the other steps you are taking. Nonetheless, as climate scientists we are exceedingly concerned that America’s response to climate change – indeed, the world’s response to climate change – is insufficient. The risks posed by climate change, including increasing extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and increasing ocean acidity – and potential strategies for addressing them – are detailed in the Third National Climate Assessment (2014), Climate Change Impacts in the United States. The stability of the Earth’s climate over the past ten thousand years contributed to the growth of agriculture and therefore, a thriving human civilization. We are now at high risk of seriously destabilizing the Earth’s climate and irreparably harming people around the world, especially the world’s poorest people.
We appreciate that you are making aggressive and imaginative use of the limited tools available to you in the face of a recalcitrant Congress. One additional tool – recently proposed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse – is a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) investigation of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change. The actions of these organizations have been extensively documented in peerreviewed academic research (Brulle, 2013) and in recent books including: Doubt is their Product (Michaels, 2008), Climate Cover-Up (Hoggan & Littlemore, 2009), Merchants of Doubt (Oreskes & Conway, 2010), The Climate War (Pooley, 2010), and in The Climate Deception Dossiers (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2015). We strongly endorse Senator Whitehouse’s call for a RICO investigation.
The methods of these organizations are quite similar to those used earlier by the tobacco industry. A RICO investigation (1999 to 2006) played an important role in stopping the tobacco industry from continuing to deceive the American people about the dangers of smoking. If corporations in the fossil fuel industry and their supporters are guilty of the misdeeds that have been documented in books and journal articles, it is imperative that these misdeeds be stopped as soon as possible so that America and the world can get on with the critically important business of finding effective ways to restabilize the Earth’s climate, before even more lasting damage is done.
Jagadish Shukla, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Edward Maibach, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Paul Dirmeyer, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Barry Klinger, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Paul Schopf, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
(continued on page 2)
Letter to President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, and OSTP Director Holdren
David Straus, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Edward Sarachik, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Michael Wallace, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Alan Robock, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Eugenia Kalnay, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
William Lau, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
Kevin Trenberth, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO
T.N. Krishnamurti, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Vasu Misra, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Ben Kirtman, University of Miami, Miami, FL
Robert Dickinson, University of Texas, Austin, TX
Michela Biasutti, Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York, NY
Mark Cane, Columbia University, New York, NY
Lisa Goddard, Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York, NY
Alan Betts, Atmospheric Research, Pittsford, VT