Lieu, Whitehouse to denounce ‘deceitful’ fossil fuel campaigns

Source: Benjamin Hulac, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) intend to file concurrent resolutions today accusing fossil fuel companies of using “a sophisticated and deceitful campaign” to erode public understanding of climate change and protect the companies’ business models.

Lieu and Whitehouse are among the most vocal critics of fossil fuel companies, and their sister resolutions would codify that frustration.

“We are at a critical moment right now in our fight against climate change,” Lieu said in an email, adding that climate change should not be a partisan topic. He urged Republicans to back the measure, noting increasing support on climate policy from GOP colleagues like Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.).

“While Republicans remain the only major political party in the free world to deny and obstruct action on climate, we must make a large effort to condemn the manufacturers of doubt and deception about climate science,” he said.

Although their chances of passage in the GOP-controlled House and Senate are slim, the resolutions come at a heightened moment for the fossil fuel movement. At least two state attorneys general are investigating whether Exxon Mobil Corp. lied to the public and its shareholders about the risk to its business from climate change. Industry and Republican leaders, meanwhile, are vigorously defending the company.

Different from bills, resolutions express the sentiment of Congress yet don’t carry the weight of law.

Asked about politicizing global warming as a topic, Lieu said: “We have a trump card that GOP lawmakers lack — we have the facts on our side.”

The resolution would amount to congressional disapproval of “activities by certain corporations, trade associations, foundations and organizations funded by those corporations to deliberately mislead the public and undermine peer-reviewed scientific research about the dangers of their products,” according to a copy of Lieu’s resolution.

Whitehouse’s office did not respond to requests for comment. But industry leaders blasted his and Lieu’s measure.

“This resolution is absolutely without merit and is the type of intimidation politics that the American public is tiring of,” Chet Thompson, president of the trade group American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, said in an emailed statement.

“It is designed to silence competing views and political differences,” he said.

The measures do not single out specific companies, trade groups, nonprofits or other entities. They compare fossil energy companies’ behavior to that of tobacco, lead, gasoline and paint companies in years past.

Those industries downplayed the risks their products posed to public health and the environment — despite studies to the contrary — working through a cluster of “front groups” and public relations experts “to deny, counter and obfuscate peer-reviewed research,” the copy reads.

House Democrats, including Lieu and Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Paul Tonko of New York and Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, held a briefing recently on analogies between oil and tobacco firms (ClimateWire, June 23).

A ‘flawed’ narrative

To Scott Segal, an attorney at Bracewell LLP who represents and lobbies for energy companies, that fossil fuel and tobacco narrative is flawed.

“Fossil fuels are fundamentally different from tobacco,” Segal said in an email, calling them essential to modern life.

He said it’s “absurd” that the American public is unaware of climate change and its hazards.

“The resolution paints a false premise implying that the fossil fuel industry has failed to recognize its environmental challenges,” he said. “In reality, the industry has spent billions on pollution control, process improvements and energy efficiency.”

The resolutions also prod fossil fuel companies and “allied organizations to cooperate with active or future investigations” in connection with their actions related to climate change, as well as inquiries into when and what they knew about climate change.

Congressional Republicans maintain that inquiries into energy companies, such as the probes led by the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts into Exxon Mobil, threaten First Amendment protections.

A spokesman for Exxon Mobil could not be immediately reached.

On May 25, the day of Exxon’s annual meeting in Dallas, five senators — Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), David Perdue (R-Ga.) and David Vitter (R-La.) — sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

“We write today to demand the Department of Justice (DOJ) immediately cease its ongoing use of law enforcement resources to stifle private debate on one of the most controversial public issues of our time — climate change,” they wrote.

And on June 10, the House passed a separate resolution, offered by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), “expressing the sense of Congress that a carbon tax would be detrimental to American families and businesses.”