A group of left-wing senators led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are demanding that the Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecute the fossil fuel industry over its alleged climate disinformation campaign.
In a letter Monday to Attorney General Merrick Garland, the Senate coalition — joined also by Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. — argued fossil fuel companies have conducted a “longstanding and carefully coordinated campaign” to mislead Americans about the risks posed by global warming and “discredit climate science” in pursuit of profits. If the DOJ were to pursue such a case again the fossil fuel industry, it would mark the first time the federal government got involved in climate nuisance litigation.
“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,” the four senators wrote to Garland on Monday.
“The fossil fuel industry has had scientific evidence about the dangers of climate change and the role that burning fossil fuels play in increasing global temperatures for more than 50 years,” the lawmakers continued. “Despite these companies’ knowledge about climate change and the role their industry was playing in driving carbon emissions, they chose to participate in a decades-long, carefully coordinated campaign of misinformation to obfuscate climate science and convince the public that fossil fuels are not the primary driver of climate change.”
According to the lawmakers, fossil fuel companies funded a multimillion-dollar “illegal misinformation” plan through the American Petroleum Institute (API), the industry’s main national trade association, decades ago.
They likened the campaign to the plan coordinated by the tobacco industry. A federal judge ruled in 2006 that the tobacco industry was guilty of a decades-long campaign of lying about the dangers of smoking.
“Thanks to the illegal lies of the fossil fuel industry, climate change is wreaking catastrophic damage upon the United States. Floods, droughts, extreme weather disturbances, and wildfires are causing unprecedented damage,” Sanders and the other senators wrote.
“These costs, and the costs of repairing our environment and transitioning away from fossil fuels, must not fall on American taxpayers. Instead, they must be borne by the parties responsible for driving climate change and lying about the negative impacts of their products,” they added. “The polluters must pay.”
In addition, the letter argued the alleged disinformation campaign has allowed the industry to enjoy trillions of dollars in profits over the last three decades. It stated those profits have been made “off the backs of people all around the world, especially frontline communities.”
And the senators pointed to recent “record breaking heat levels” as evidence of the urgent need for a DOJ prosecution of the fossil fuel industry. Over the last several weeks, large swaths of the U.S. have been blanketed by extreme heat, and 46 million Americans across the South remain under heat alerts.
However, in a statement, API pushed back against the letter Monday, saying it was committed to advocating for policies reducing emissions.
“The record of the past two decades demonstrates that the industry is achieving its goal of providing affordable, reliable American energy to U.S. consumers while substantially reducing emissions and our environmental footprint,” a spokesperson for API told Fox News Digital. “Any suggestion to the contrary is false.”
In 2021, API published its Climate Action Framework, which stated the group shares the “goal of reduced emissions across the broader economy and, specifically, those from energy production, transportation and use by society.”
The effort to push federal litigation against the fossil fuel industry comes amid dozens of similar climate nuisance cases filed at the state and local level over the past few years. Such cases have been filed by Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island and New Jersey, and the cities of Washington, D.C., New York City, Baltimore, Honolulu and San Francisco, in addition to several other cities and counties nationwide.
And the effort comes after a Democratic-led House investigation into Big Oil disinformation collapsed after Republicans won back majority control last year.