I hope Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were paying close attention to the press conference New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman held with former Vice President Al Gore on Tuesday:
More government officials are asking what Exxon Mobil knew about climate change.
Attorneys general from Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands announced Tuesday that they would join Eric T. Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, in his investigation into whether Exxon Mobil lied in decades past to investors and the public about the threat of climate change.
The additional participation was announced during a news conference at Mr. Schneiderman’s offices in Lower Manhattan announcing support from 15 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands for the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.
Attorneys general from Vermont, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, Connecticut and the Virgin Islands, as well as former Vice President Al Gore, attended the event.
While none of the other officials present, aside from Maura Healey of Massachusetts and Claude Walker of the Virgin Islands, announced inquiries of their own, Mr. Schneiderman said, “not every investigation gets announced at the outset.”
Mr. Schneiderman began his investigation in November. His staff is looking at whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks — some as recently as last year — conflicted with the company’s own scientific research.
Part of that inquiry includes the company’s funding, for at least a decade, of outside groups that worked to dispute climate science, even as its in-house scientists were describing the possible consequences of climate change, along with the areas of uncertainty.
If either Clinton or Sanders becomes the 45th President of the United States, they will face intense pressure from climate activists to nominate an attorney general willing to hold ExxonMobil and other major fossil fuel companies legally accountable for their efforts to deceive the American public and distort the American political process in an effort to thwart federal efforts to combat carbon pollution–and they must respond to this call for justice. As Gore noted at the press conference, what ExxonMobil did in the late-1980s and beyond is indistinguishable from what the tobacco industry did for decades in an effort to protect their profits at the expense of the public.
Holding ExxonMobil legally accountable for its amoral actions in the late-1980s and beyond would seem to be a no-brainer. That’s why it’s so odd to see the acclaimed science blogger David Appell lashing out against the calls to bring ExxonMobil to justice, using a variation of the “Leonardo DiCaprio flies private jets, so he’s a hypocrite!” argument you often hear from the anti-science right. Appell seems to think that climate activists just want revenge on ExxonMobil. Future generations will want revenge, of course, but today’s activists just want accountability.
Appell is wrong. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey noted that “…her office had a moral obligation to act” on ExxonMobil’s extremism. The next US Attorney General will have a moral obligation to act as well. Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders, take note–and take heed.