Will #ExxonKnew Go to Court?
March 4, 2016
The U.S. Justice Department has forwarded a request from two congressmen seeking a federal probe of ExxonMobil to the FBI’s criminal division.
U.S. Representatives Ted Lieu and Mark DeSaulnier sought the probe last year to determine whether the oil giant violated federal laws by “failing to disclose truthful information” about climate change.
In response, the Justice Department deferred to the FBI, saying it is that agency’s responsibility to conduct an initial assessment of facts that prompted the congressmen’s request. Such action is considered standard procedure, according to former federal prosecutors who say the response appears ambiguous as to what action may be taken by the FBI.
“As a courtesy, we have forwarded your correspondence to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI),” said a letter to the congressmen from Peter J. Kadzik, an assistant U.S. attorney general.
“The FBI is the investigative arm of the Department, upon which we rely to conduct the initial fact finding in federal cases. The FBI will determine whether an investigation is warranted.”
The Justice Department’s referral letter to the FBI, however, has not been released, so it is not known if it contained any specific instructions.
The referral was made to the assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.
The FBI and Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment.
Below, interview with one of the Congressmen who made the original request, Ted Lieu, (D – California)
You’ve obviously been very active in trying to push the federal government to investigate major fossil fuel companies like Exxon Mobil Corp. and Shell Oil Co. over alleged denial of climate change. How do you see that playing out in this administration?
I’m very pleased that after Congressman DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) and I sent letters to the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission, we now have the New York attorney general saying he’s launching an investigation into Exxon. There are reports the California attorney general is doing same, and then recently it appears the Maryland attorney general is going to do that as well.
I’m confident the U.S. Department of Justice will also do an investigation, and they in fact may be doing one now. In my experience, they typically don’t say they’re doing investigations. Same with the Securities and Exchange Commission—they may not say they’re doing an investigation.
If you look at what the fossil fuel companies—and I specifically say companies because now there’s evidence that it wasn’t just Exxon Mobil who knew about climate change—planned for it and then denied it. Shell also knew about climate change, planned for it and then publicly denied it.
That set back the fight against climate change for decades, which is unfortunate because [the necessary action] is not just merely taking carbon, methane and other greenhouse gases out of the air. It’s taking it out of the air within a certain amount of time. All of the scientists who have looked at this have concluded if we don’t do it relatively soon, we’re going to cross a point of no return where we cannot stop the extreme weather events that are already starting to happen to us.
So how do you keep building momentum for climate change action here on Capitol Hill in light of the extremely polarized view of this issue where many Republicans continue to deny the problem even exists?
While it’s true that the only major conservative party in the entire world that denies climate change is the Republican Party, we are seeing cracks in the monolithic denial of science. Last year, at least 10 Republican members of Congress signed a resolution that says climate change is happening, and it’s largely caused by humans.
We also have a number of organizations and entities that are not normally viewed as progressive or liberal all concluding that climate change is real, it’s a problem and we need to do something about it. So we have the Catholic Church saying we need to address the urgency of climate change. We have the U.S. military. One of the reasons our U.S. military is the best in the world is it doesn’t rely on fantasy or speculation. It relies on facts and data, and it plans against facts and data and science. And it’s realized that climate change is happening, and it’s affecting U.S. national security. And then today you have Exxon Mobil saying climate change is real, it’s being largely caused by the burning of fossil fuels and Exxon Mobil supports a fee on carbon.
So for those who deny climate change, I just would like them to consider what Exxon Mobil knows that they don’t.
So do you see that translating into legislation in the near future?
I do. My view of politics is everything appears impossible until it happens. So, if 10 years ago I said, ‘we’re going to have legalized gay marriage across America,’ you’d have thought I was smoking marijuana. We have legalized gay marriage across America now, and I think the rapidity with which that happened took a lot of people by surprise. But it also shows what happens when the public has shifted opinion in an overwhelming manner. That’s what we’re seeing with climate change.
With every passing year, more and more people in America and in the world come to the conclusion that physics and chemistry and science is actually correct. You saw what happened in Paris. You had all the countries in the world essentially saying climate change is real, humans are largely to blame for it, and we need to take actions to stop it.
Do you hear different attitudes from your Republican colleagues in private about this issue? Is there a degree of this that is public posturing?
You’re already starting to see the argument shift. Ten years ago you had a lot of people saying that climate change just isn’t happening. Now even some of the most conservative members of Congress will acknowledge climate change is happening, they just don’t know what to attribute it to, which then leads to potential areas of agreement where we can work on adaptation.
It’s clear that more coastal cities are increasingly being flooded, and flood risks are increasing. So, you can work on policies that try to adapt to that situation and try to mitigate what flooding can cause to cities. So, I think there are areas of agreement where we can say, ‘look, we don’t need you to say you believe climate change is being caused by the burning of fossil fuels, we just need you to acknowledge it’s happening. Now let’s work together on how we can make our society more resilient.’
What’s next for you? Are you looking to send some additional letters to fossil fuel companies? How do you push the ball forward on this issue as a freshman member of Congress?
I’m pleased that the letters we’ve written appear to have generated interest by law enforcement bodies to investigate fossil fuel companies. I am a firm believer that prosecutors and investigators are professional, and they will decide to charge or not charge a company based on the facts.
I believe, when you look at the facts, I think there’s a very high likelihood you’re going to have a number of fossil fuel companies not just being investigated but eventually charged. What they did is similar to what the tobacco companies did where they denied the science in order to sell a product that was causing harm.