Attorney General Keith Ellison: Why the Biden-Harris Climate Accountability Pledge Really Matters
Biden administration’s pledge to support plaintiff-driven litigation against fossil-fuel companies by Minnesota and other states can lead to real accountability
March 22, 2021
Yesterday Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison had a piece published in Bloomberg Law on the significance of the Biden-Harris pledge to support litigation against fossil fuel companies. This is an important step forward in holding Big Oil and other fossil fuel companies accountable for the lies fed to Americans regarding their impact on the climate crisis. For years major fossil fuel companies like Koch and Exxon knew the catastrophic damage their products were doing to the planet and not only did nothing, but repeatedly lied to the public about the devastation.
Like Big Tobacco before them, these companies hired high-priced PR firms and spin doctors to cover up the truth about the damage they were causing to the planet in order to rake in more profit and power. Taxpayers are now being the brunt of the expense for these lies, with Minnesotans having shelled out billions to deal with the cost of a rapidly warming climate.
Attorney General Ellison is leading the fight to finally hold these companies accountable for their actions through a lawsuit that includes claims for fraud, failure to warn, and multiple separate violations of Minnesota Statutes that prohibit consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices, and false statements in advertising.
In the piece Attorney General Ellison writes:
As far back as the 1960s, fossil fuel companies were warned by their own experts that continuing to produce, market, and sell their oil, gas, and coal products would cause rising seas, droughts, and other consequences that could be “severe” or even “catastrophic.”
In 1968, the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s major trade association, commissioned a Stanford Research Institute report that concluded because of increasing CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, “there seems to be no doubt that the potential damage to our environment could be severe.”
Then, in 1981, Exxon senior scientist Roger W. Cohen reviewed an internal report to senior management and warned it was “distinctly possible” that the CO2 emissions scenario developed by Exxon’s planning division will “produce effects that will indeed be catastrophic (at least for a substantial fraction of the earth’s population).”
Severe. Catastrophic. Those are the words of their own experts more than 40 years ago.
The fossil fuel companies could have taken steps to reduce or even avoid the damage. They could have warned people about it. But they didn’t do either.
Instead, when their experts’ warnings were confirmed by independent scientists in the late 1980s, and there was bipartisan support to regulate greenhouse gas pollution, the industry turned to their spin doctors. They embarked on a disinformation campaign, using many of the same PR firms, lobbyists, and spokespeople as the tobacco companies, to deceive the public, press, and policymakers about what they were doing to our climate and our communities.
In what civilized and just society, would anyone—let alone powerful corporations—be allowed to lie to consumers, harm them as a result, rake in trillions of dollars in profits, and then force the victims to pay for the damage?