As Climate RICO Campaign Falls Apart, Senate Backers Resort to C-SPAN Speeches

As the climate RICO campaign continues to crumble in the wake of the Virgin Islands Attorney General’s subpoena retraction – and as the key players face subpoenas of their own from the House Science Committee – activists have gone into full panic mode this week, seeking the help of their friends in Congress.

A few Democrats led by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) took to the Senate floor this week to claim that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is engaged in a “web of denial.” But as usual, the facts tell a very different story. Let’s have a look:

Senator Whitehouse Claim: “That’s right: the polarization that we see in this building and this chamber on this issue is a product created by this web of corporate funded climate denial front groups. Congressional action is the sabotage their product has wrought in our democracy.”

FACT: Senator Whitehouse and the other Democrats who spoke were quick to blame so-called “deniers” for the fact that Congress never took legislative action on climate change, but what they failed to mention is that schemes like the Kyoto Protocol and the cap-and-trade bill were actually killed because members of their own party refused to support them.

The U.S. Senate voted 95-0 against the Kyoto treaty and President Clinton never even submitted it to the Senate to be ratified. Notably James Hansen, one of the most prominent climate scientists, said that Kyoto Protocol “will have little effect” on global temperature in the 21st century.

Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation didn’t pass even at a time when Democrats had the majority in both the House and the Senate.  The last time a climate bill hit the floor of the United States Senate was the Lieberman-Warner bill in 2008 and it was defeated largely due to strong Democratic opposition. James Hansen also called cap-and-trade the “temple of doom” and actually placed a large share of the blame for lack of action on climate on environmental groups: “The first concerns ‘Big Green,’ the large environmental organizations, which have become one of the biggest obstacles to solving the climate problem.”

And what was the result of not adopting those policies? Dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions due to the increased use of natural gas in electricity generation. U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) put it well when he explained recently, “We’ve been improving our emissions in this county without agreeing to the Kyoto accords, without Congressional action because of innovation form the natural gas area.”

In other words, without signing on to the Kyoto treaty or cap-and-trade legislation, the United States is the only country in the world that has managed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions significantly – and that’s due in large part to companies like ExxonMobil that remained steadfast in the production of natural gas.

Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) credits fracking and the increased use of natural gas for these reductions in its Fifth Assessment Report: “[T]he rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal-drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply…is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.”

Senator Jeff Merkley Claim: “We have seen this movie before, when the tobacco industry lied to the American people for decades to discredit the emerging science and evidence that tobacco was killing millions of Americans. And now the fossil industrial complex is lying to the American people, but this time it is not just the health of Americans at risk, it is the health of the entire planet.”

FACT: The very foundation of the climate RICO campaign is the effort to tie oil and gas producers directly to the tobacco industry – but actual experts in the field have said this comparison doesn’t pass muster. To name just a few, Brendan Collins, a partner with the law firm Ballard Spahr and an expert on environmental regulations, put it this way to the Washington Examiner:

“The evidence brought against the tobacco industry two decades ago is ‘pretty substantially different from the idea that Exxon may have duped me from getting a low-mileage [car] and now the island of Tuvalu is going to get covered by water,’ Collins said. It’s a ‘very big leap’ to link what Exxon ‘did or didn’t do’ to the harm posed by climate change.”

As Kevin Ewing, an attorney with the Houston law firm Bracewell, explained,

“Tobacco was shown to cause specific harm to specific individuals. Not so with climate change, where we cannot yet discern the factual connection between a company’s conduct and individual harm, even though we can observe the global effects of climate change at large.”

Lincoln Caplan, a senior research scholar at Yale Law School and the author of five books, wrote in a column:

“Is the ‘tobacco strategy’ the way to try to document that ExxonMobil fraudulently deceived the public about climate change and hold the giant energy company accountable? It is a promising but hugely expensive and gruelling model. Even if such a measure succeeds against ExxonMobil and perhaps against other big oil companies, it is likely to be one victory in a very long war.”

Walter K. Olson, senior fellow at the Cato institute, said pursuing fraud charges against Exxon is like pursuing fraud charges against candy or ice cream makers:

“Every ice cream maker is disliked by some obesity expert, but it doesn’t mean that every time an ice cream maker tells its stockholders, ‘Everything is great, we’re selling more ice cream this year,’ they’re committing consumer fraud. It doesn’t matter even if the critique of ice cream is correct. You still don’t have fraud.”

Tristan Brown, a lawyer and assistant professor of Energy Resource Economics at State University of New York who even admitted that he “empathizes” with the #ExxonKnew campaign, noted that the AGs launching climate investigations are essentially changing the definition of what it means to commit fraud, which sets a “dangerous” precedent.

As Brown explains, fraud allegations in the energy sector have “historically taken the form of companies falsely inflating the value of past capital inflows or failing to report actual losses.” But what these AGs are doing “takes what has been a backward-looking requirement and expands it to include the future,” which has enormous implications.  For one, it requires companies to know what scientists are right. It also means that clean energy companies could just as easily be accused of “fraud”:

“Imagine that another unpredicted pause [in global warming] occurs at some point in the near future. The Democratic coalition’s new fraud definition has become precedent. Republican attorneys general will have the grounds and quite possibly the will to investigate clean energy firms and their backers for committing fraud in the form of ‘climate change alarmism.’ By changing the definition of securities fraud in this way, the Democratic coalition is potentially setting the stage for the vagaries of climate change to become the basis of legal attacks against opposing ideologies rather than just of political attacks.”

Senator Ed Markey Claim: “Thanks to excellent investigative reporting at InsideClimate News and other news outlets, we now know that as far back as the 1970s, Exxon and the other oil companies were following the latest developments in climate science and Exxon was undertaking its own research on the impact of carbon pollution on the climate. The top leadership of Exxon was warned in July of 1977 by its senior scientist James Black: “In the first place there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.”

FACT: As Energy In Depth has shown, in order to manufacture these claims, InsideClimate News (ICN) simply cherry-picked the documents by Exxon scientists and ignored the facts for its #ExxonKnew series. For instance, ICN, and indeed Senator Markey, claim that Exxon scientist James Black warned company executives about the dangers of climate change way back in the 1970s. But what both ICN and Markey fail to mention is the fact that in his 1977 presentation, Black was very clear that climate science involved a great deal of uncertainty at the time. Here are those sections from Black’s presentation that ICN just left out:

A number of assumptions and uncertainties are involved in the predictions of the Greenhouse Effect. The first is the assumption that the observed Co2 increase can be attributed entirely to fossil fuel combustion. At present, meteorologists have no direct evidence that the incremental CO2 in the atmosphere comes from fossil carbon. The increase could be at least partly due to changes in natural balance. There is considerable uncertainty regarding what controls the exchange of atmospheric CO2 with oceans and with carbonaceous materials on the continents.”

Models which predict the climatic effects of a CO2 increase are in a primitive stage of development.  The atmosphere is a very complicated system, particularly on a global scale.” (emphasis added)

These findings are right in line with what the world’s most prominent climate scientists were saying at the time. In fact, IPCC’s Second Assessment contains very similar wording about this uncertainty as late as 1995:

“Our ability to quantify the human influence on global climate is currently limited because the expected signal is still emerging from the noise of natural variability, and because there are uncertainties in key factors. These include the magnitude and patterns of longterm variability and the time-evolving pattern of forcing by, and response to, changes in concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols, and land surface changes.”

It continues,

“Although these global mean results suggest that there is some anthropogenic component in the observed temperature record, they cannot be considered compelling evidence of a clear cause and effect link between anthropogenic forcing and changes in the Earthʼs surface temperature.”

Senator Whitehouse Claim: “We know these groups are backed by special interests. All we have to do is follow the money.”

FACT: Senator Whitehouse and the activists pushing the RICO campaign claim that anyone who objects to their efforts due to the quashing of First Amendment rights is doing so because they receive fossil fuel funding, but they never mention the fact that just about every group involved in the climate RICO campaign is bankrolled by the Rockefellers.

Whitehouse began by singling out Justin Farrell of the Yale School of Forestry, who released a report suggesting that “corporate funding” to more than 160 so-called “climate counter movement” institutions was largely responsible for skepticism about climate science. Of course, the Yale School of Forestry receives funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

Whitehouse also lauded InsideClimate News, the Columbia School of Journalism and DeSmog Blog, which all wrote their own #ExxonKnew series, as well as Climate Nexus, the PR firm that helped promote those stories. All of these groups are funded by the Rockefellers.

Finally, Whitehouse had high praise for the Rockefeller-funded Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) for “exposing the web of denial.”  UCS held the now infamous 2012 workshop in La Jolla, California for activists to brainstorm how they could use racketeering laws against ExxonMobil.

The bottom line is that whether it’s about their funding, or their flimsy legal attempt to tie oil and gas companies to tobacco, or the fact that they couldn’t get cap-and-trade passed in an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress – if anyone’s engaged in a “web of denial” it’s the activists and Members of Congress pushing #ExxonKnew.

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