Dems seek to tie fossil fuel companies to Big Tobacco

Source: Amanda Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, June 21, 2016

House progressives are planning to hold a forum this week to argue that the oil and gas industry is taking its cue from Big Tobacco in its attempts to thwart investigations on climate change.

The planned gathering Wednesday afternoon, called “Oil Is the New Tobacco,” will bring together members of Congress, climate researchers and environmental activists.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairmen Reps. Rauúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and the House’s Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition will host the Capitol Hill event.

“The forum will examine issues surrounding the fossil fuel industry’s concerted efforts to deceive elected officials, investors, and the American public on the reality of climate change,” according to an advisory.

Grijalva, Ellison and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) are scheduled to speak.

In the late 1990s, federal prosecutors brought litigation that was ultimately successful against tobacco giants under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Environmental activists for months have drawn parallels between how tobacco companies responded to investigations that led to that litigation, and how the fossil fuel industry and allies have responded to fraud investigations by state attorneys general and calls for the Department of Justice to investigate Exxon Mobil Corp.

Fossil fuel critics say companies are, like tobacco advocates, raising free-speech concerns and saying investigations are violating the First Amendment rights of groups and individuals who don’t believe in man-made climate change.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, subpoenaed by the Virgin Islands attorney general as part of its probe of Exxon, said that the investigations of the fossil fuel industry are “totally different” from the past tobacco litigation.

“The tobacco investigation, the tobacco litigation all involved the sale of a product,” CEI general counsel Sam Kazman said last week. “This involves a policy debate. This involves an attempt to shut down dissent.”