1 of 3 | Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., sent a letter Monday to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, urging the Justice Department to bring lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry for its "campaign to discredit climate science in pursuit of massive profits." File photo by Edward M. PioRoda/CNN/UPI | License Photo
July 31 (UPI) -- Four Democratic senators are demanding the Justice Department sue the fossil fuel industry for its decades-long "campaign to mislead consumers and discredit climate science in pursuit of massive profits."
Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., sent a letter Monday to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, urging him to take action against the fossil fuel industry for making climate change a "non-issue" and costing the United States trillions of dollars.
"Big oil has known for decades that they are fueling the climate crisis and lied to hide it," Markey wrote in a tweet Monday. "Now, we're seeing record-breaking temperatures and unprecedented damage. We must hold them accountable for their misleading, unforgivable campaigning."
In the three-page letter, the senators argued "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 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 letter states. "As early as 1959, Edward Teller warned the American Petroleum Institute that carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would raise global temperatures."
More than 40 states and cities have already filed lawsuits to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for climate change.
According to a lawsuit filed by the State of Minnesota, the fossil fuel industry "spent millions on advertising and public relations because they understood that an accurate understanding of climate change would affect their ability to continue to earn profits by conducting business as usual."
In Monday's letter, Sanders, Markey, Merkley and Warren compared the fossil fuel industry's "misinformation campaign" to the decades-long campaign by the tobacco industry convincing consumers that its product was safe. In 2006, a federal judge found tobacco companies guilty of lying about the dangers of smoking.
"Big oil was engaged in exactly the same type of behavior that the tobacco companies engaged in and were found liable for fraud on a massive scale ... the cover-up, the denial of the problem, the funding of scientists to question the science," according to Sharon Eubanks, the U.S. lead prosecutor on the tobacco case. "The same pattern. And some of the same lawyers represent both tobacco and big oil."
In the letter, the senators cite large profits made by the six largest private oil companies -- including Exxon, Shell, Chevron and BP -- which from 1990 to 2019 amassed $2.4 trillion.
"These profits have been made off the backs of people all around the world, especially frontline communities across the globe who have suffered and are suffering from the worst repercussions of climate change," the letter claims.
"Floods, droughts, extreme weather disturbances and wildfires are causing unprecedented damage. Deloitte estimates that unchecked climate change, driven by the fossil fuel industry, could cost the United States $14.5 trillion over the next 50 years." Deloitte is a conglomerate of independent firms that provides audit and financial advising services to select clients.
"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," the letter demands. "The polluters must pay."