Sheldon Whitehouse: Sue Fossil Fuel Companies For Climate Fraud

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has a new plan to combat climate change: sue fossil fuel companies for fraud.

In a May 29 op-ed in The Washington Post, Whitehouse argued that the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to discredit climate science and attack environmentalists may constitute deliberate deception of the kind the tobacco industry perpetrated in previous decades. In 2006, a federal judge found the tobacco industry guilty of fraud in a civil lawsuit brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Cigarette companies’ efforts to hide the health effects of tobacco consumption included lying about the findings of their own studies on smoking.

Fossil fuel companies may be a ripe target for a civil lawsuit under RICO as well, Whitehouse wrote. The industry coordinates with conservative think tanks to disseminate industry-funded research contradicting the scientific consensus on man-made climate change. The use of think tanks may be “designed to obscure” the industry’s own role and to lend intellectual credibility to otherwise unfounded scientific claims, Whitehouse wrote. And the industry’s direct funding of climate-denying scientists like Harvard’s Willie Soon could be evidence that it may be trying to buy favorable climate science.

Although Whitehouse conceded that the information currently available does not definitively prove that the fossil fuel industry is “engaged in the same kind of racketeering activity as the tobacco industry,” litigation would shed more light on the matter — as it did in the case against tobacco. “Civil discovery would reveal whether and to what extent the fossil fuel industry has crossed [the] same line” as the tobacco industry, he wrote.

But a RICO case against the fossil fuel industries would face an uphill climb, Jeffrey Grell, an expert in RICO law and former assistant attorney general of Minnesota, told The Huffington Post. —> Read More