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Sanders, Warren: DOJ Must Sue Big Oil for Decades of Lies on Climate Crisis

The lawmakers say the industry has broken a slew of laws in perpetuating its lies about the climate crisis.

Deer graze inside the gates of the ExxonMobil Joliet refinery on the Des Plaines River. The refinery exceeded its permitted levels of pollution 40 times between 2019 and 2021, federal records show.

A group of senators is urging the Department of Justice to file lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry over its decades-long campaign to deny its impact on the climate crisis on the last day of what scientists predict will be the hottest month on Earth on record.

On Monday, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) told Attorney General Merrick Garland that it is clear that the fossil fuel industry has for years broken a wide variety of laws in perpetuating climate denial, and that the DOJ must hold the industry accountable.

“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,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter.

Since at least the 1970s, fossil fuel giants like Exxon have known that a dependence on fossil fuels would lead to climate catastrophe, with company scientists predicting with surprising accuracy how much their products would warm and destabilize the planet. Rather than heeding these warnings, the corporations worked in tandem to bury this research, and, borrowing from Big Tobacco’s strategy of lying about lung cancer, have spent decades sowing climate denial in order to enrich themselves and their shareholders.

The lawmakers say that these companies should, at long last, be held responsible for their lies. They cite research on the climate crisis that Shell, Exxon and the American Petroleum Institute were aware of, but chose to discredit.

While many states and climate advocates have brought lawsuits seeking to expose the industry’s lies or mandate an end to fossil fuels, the DOJ has not itself brought a lawsuit against the industry, though it did file a legal brief in support of a Colorado climate lawsuit earlier this year.

“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,” the senators wrote.

“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,” they continued.

The DOJ must ensure that the costs of the climate crisis — which experts have projected will amount to hundreds of trillions of dollars over the next decades — fall on the industry that caused it, the lawmakers said.

“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,” the lawmakers wrote. “The polluters must pay.”

The lawmakers’ call comes amid a summer marked by blaring warnings that the climate crisis is here, and will only get worse if those with power continue down this path. Global temperature records were shattered in July, with scientists saying the heat would have been “virtually impossible” without the climate crisis.“Just as we did with Big Tobacco, it is time to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable. It is time for the DOJ to join the fight,” Sanders said on Monday. “The future of our planet depends on it.”

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