Environmental and Civil Rights Groups Urge Federal Probe of Exxon

Photo: 350.org

Photo: 350.org

By Katherine Bagley

A coalition of nearly 50 environmental, civil rights and indigenous people’s groups sent a letterFriday to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging her to launch a federal investigation into whether ExxonMobil purposefully misled the American people on climate change.

The organizations citereporting by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times that shows Exxon “knew about the dangers of climate change even as it funded efforts at climate denial and systematically misled the public,” the letter said.

“Given the damage that has already occurred from climate change—particularly in the poorest communities of our nation and our planet—and that will certainly occur going forward, these revelations should be viewed with the utmost apprehension.”

Members of the new coalition represent a diverse array of interests: 350.org, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund, Interfaith Power and Light, the Indigenous Environmental Network, hedge fund manager-turned-climate activist Tom Steyer, Columbia University climate scientist James Hansen and the Foundation of Women in Hip Hop, among many others.

“Some of us were worried that as remarkable as these revelations are from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times, a kind of cynicism might help sink them beneath the static of the digital culture,” 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben, who helped organize the letter, said in an email. “People might just sigh and say ‘of course they knew and of course they lied.’ But in fact people are pissed off. Many of the people signing that letter have spent 10 or 20 or 25 years having to fight an entirely phony debate around the reality of climate change instead of getting to work on the solutions we desperately need. And as we now know, that’s largely Exxon’s fault.”

The coalition joins a growing community of politicians and citizen groups calling for the Justice Department to investigate ExxonMobil for sowing doubt about climate change after the company’s own scientists had confirmed and accepted the role of fossil fuels in global warming.

Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton voiced support for a Department of Justice investigation after a town hall campaign event in Berlin, N.H. on Thursday. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders sent a letter to Lynch earlier this month asking for a task force to investigate Exxon. Governor Martin O’Malley voiced his support for an investigation on Twitter.

Calls for action have also come from Congress. Four Democratic Senators, led by Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, sent a letter to Exxon Thursday asking whether the company funneled donations to climate denial groups through a financial clearinghouse after it said it had stopped funding the organizations directly. Two California congressmen—Democratic representatives Mark DeSaulnier and Ted Lieu—also asked for a federal investigation earlier this month.

The politicians and the new coalition want the Justice Department look into whether Exxon violated the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law, which federal officials used to prosecute tobacco companies in the 1990s for lying about what they knew about the health impacts of smoking.

The revelations by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times “are reminiscent—though potentially much greater in scale—than similar revelations about the tobacco industry,” the letter said.

“These journalists have provided a remarkable roadmap to this corporation’s potential misconduct. We would ask that you follow that map wherever it may lead, employing all the tools at your disposal to uncover the truth,” it said.

Full Letter

Dear Attorney General Lynch,

As leaders of some of the nation’s environmental, indigenous peoples and civil rights groups, we’re writing to ask that you initiate a federal probe into the conduct of ExxonMobil. New revelations in the Los Angeles Times and the Pulitzer-prize-winning InsideClimate News strongly suggest that the corporation knew about the dangers of climate change even as it funded efforts at climate denial and systematically misled the public.

Given the damage that has already occurred from climate change—particularly in the poorest communities of our nation and our planet—and that will certainly occur going forward, these revelations should be viewed with the utmost apprehension. They are reminiscent—though potentially much greater in scale—than similar revelations about the tobacco industry.

These journalists have provided a remarkable roadmap to this corporation’s potential misconduct. We would ask that you follow that map wherever it may lead, employing all the tools at your disposal to uncover the truth.

Signed,
Margie Alt, Executive Director of Environment America
Rameen Aminzadeh, Beats Rhymes & Relief
Kenny Ausubel, Nina Simons, Founders of Bioneers
Lydia Avila, Energy Action Coalition
Darryl Baskerville, Greensboro4Justice
Sally Bingham, President and Founder of Interfaith Power and Light
May Boeve, Bill McKibben, Founders of 350.org
Michael Brune, Executive Director of Sierra Club
Robert Bullard, Author and John Muir Award winner, 2013
Andrea Carmen, Executive Director of International Indian Treaty Council
Piper Carter, The Foundation of Women in Hip Hop
Faith Gemmill, Executive Director of REDOIL (Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands)
Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of Indigenous Environmental Network
Russell Greene, J.A.M.N.
James Hansen, Director, Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions Program, Columbia University Earth Institute
Christina Hardy, Neighbors United of Southeast Greensboro, NC
Reverend Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of Greenfaith
David Helvarg, Executive Director of Blue Frontier
Katie Hoffman, Resilience Collaborative, LLC
Reverend Nelson Johnson, Beloved Community Center
Gene Karpinski, President of League of Conservation Voters
Jane Kleeb, Bold Nebraska
Steve Kretzmann, Executive Director and Founder of Oil Change International
Fred Krupp, President of Environmental Defense Fund
Winona LaDuke, Executive Director of Honor the Earth
Annie Leonard, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA
Mark Magaña, GreenLatinos
RL Miller, President of Climate Hawks Vote
Toure Muhammad, Bean Soup Times
Matt Nelson, Managing Director of Presente.org
Brant Olson, Campaign Director at Climate Truth
Erich Pica, President of Friends of the Earth
Aldo Seoane, Wica Agli
Cindy Shogan, Executive Director of Alaska Wilderness League
Reverend Fred Small, President of Creation Coalition
Gus Speth, Former Dean Yale School of Forestry and the Environment
Tom Steyer, Founder of NextGen Climate
Kieran Suckling, Executive Director of the Center for Biological Diversity
Rhea Suh, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council
Franz Teplitz, Green America
Vien Truong, Director of Green for All
Joe Uehlein, Executive Director of Labor Network for Sustainability
Tripp Van Noppen, President of Earthjustice
Clara Vonrich, Divest-Invest Philanthropy
David Yarnold, President of the Audubon Society
Reverend Lennox Yearwood, President of Hip Hop Caucus
Trip Van Nopen, Earth Justice
Rich Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica
A Philip Randolph Institute
Divest Invest Individual
Ecumenical Poverty Initiative
Freddie Gray Project
The Gathering for Justice/Justice League NYC
J Dilla Foundation