Demand Accountability for Big Oil and Gas
New York State Department of Law
28 Liberty Street
New York, NY
Dear Attorney General Underwood:
The undersigned write to express our support for your work to hold the oil industry accountable for its decades-long campaign to thwart policies that would curb emissions of greenhouse gases. While we are in no position to have an opinion on the possible violations of law that your office is exploring, we are well aware of the success the fossil-fuel lobby has had blocking proposals to curtail burning of fossil fuels.
As you well know, the planet is heating up and it is primarily the result of human activities. For decades, scientists have warned that unless plans were put in place to reduce the use of coal, oil and gas, climate changes would occur and millions would suffer as a result. Those most likely to be harmed are people who live in impoverished nations — those areas which have been the least responsible for generating the pollutants that trigger global warming.
It is clear that the wealthy, industrialized world — which is primarily responsible for global warming — must be the leader in tackling this problem. This is both a moral and practical imperative. But instead of leading, national public health, environmental protection and climate policies have been blocked by the political power of the oil lobby.
As recent media investigations have found, the industry leader — ExxonMobil — was well aware of the dangers of global warming and that burning fossil fuels was a key driver in raising global temperatures.
According to corporate documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times, for example, a leading Exxon researcher told an audience of engineers at a conference in 1991 that greenhouse gases are rising “due to the burning of fossil fuels. Nobody disputes this fact.” The senior Exxon researcher went on to add that there was no doubt those levels would double by the middle of the 21st century.
Yet at the same time, the company was telling its shareholders concerned about climate change that it had studied the science of global warming and concluded it was too murky to warrant action. The company said that its “examination of the issue supports the conclusions that the facts today and the projection of future effects are very unclear.”
Why would a company with rigorous research hide its conclusions and publicly argue the opposite? According to the Los Angeles Times, it was because Exxon feared a growing public consensus would lead to financially burdensome policies.
As the Times explained, top corporate officials proposed “a plan for the ‘Exxon Position’: In order to stop the momentum behind the issue, Exxon should emphasize doubt. Tell the public that more scientific research is needed before regulatory action is taken and emphasize the ‘costs and economics’ of restricting carbon dioxide emissions.”
ExxonMobil succeeded at manufacturing doubt. So much so that national political figures still proclaim that global warming is a hoax.
ExxonMobil argues that its internal science led corporate officials to make statements that at the time they believed were the truth. Your investigation may well shed light on the veracity of that statement.
But what cannot be ignored is that climate changes are occurring due to global warming — and that such warming is primarily the result of human activity. The world has lost valuable time due to the tactics of the opponents of that scientific fact. As a result, millions worldwide will suffer.
Setting the record straight about what ExxonMobil knew and when it knew it is important to moving forward decisively on climate change in 2017. According to internal documents disclosed by the Los Angeles Times and other outlets, Exxon fully understood that denying climate science was influencing not only investors and members of the general public, but the lawmakers and regulators who had the power and responsibility to craft policies to act by clamping down on climate pollution.
The world cannot ignore this rising threat. As one of the world’s leading contributors to global warming, the United States must take the lead in curbing the damage that is due to come. And it must do so by the following the advice of the world’s leading scientists: leave fossil fuels in the ground and rely on safe, non-polluting, energy sources.
Therefore, the undersigned groups support your investigation and your examination of the corporate actions of ExxonMobil and other industry actors.