A California lawmaker wants to change a law to make it easier for state prosecutors to go after companies skeptical of global warming. The proposed bill would punish skeptical companies for “many years of public deception” with regards to global warming science.
“I want to give law enforcement the tools they need to hold people accountable for their actions if that’s where the evidence takes them,” Democratic state Sen. Ben Allen, who proposed legislation targeting skeptics, recently told InsideClimate News.
Allen’s proposed legislation would extend the statute of limitations under California’s Unfair Competition Law from four to 30 years specifically for “behavior related to scientific evidence of climate change,” according to a summary of the bill. Allen’s proposal comes as state prosecutors pledged to investigate Exxon Mobil for allegedly misleading the public about global warming.
“Given the environmental, health, and economic impacts that Californians are already paying for as a result of the fossil fuel industry’s many years of public deception and their efforts to block action on climate change, it is important to hold the industry responsible,” Allen’s office wrote in the bill’s summary.
The legislation is part of a larger effort by Democrats and environmentalists to draw parallels between oil companies and the tobacco industry as state attorneys general investigate Exxon’s disclosures about global warming’s risks to shareholders.
California’s attorney general is already investigating Exxon for allegedly misleading shareholders about the risks the company faces from global warming. New York, Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands have also launched investigations into Exxon’s global warming stance.
“Keeping the statute limited to only four years undermines the state’s ability to hold fossil fuel companies responsible for their unfair and deceptive practices that extend back well beyond four years, as well as the damages and risks that Californians and everyone else must face for centuries to come,” according to Allen’s office.
AG investigations into Exxon, and Allen’s bill, were inspired by reports from InsideClimate News and Columbia University claiming the company knew of the risks of global warming for decades, but funded groups skeptical of warming and opposed regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.
“Certainly everything we’ve seen suggests there may be a really strong case,” Allen said.
State AGs held a conference Tuesday to pledge their support for federal regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and some AGs even promised to investigate fossil fuel companies questioning man-made global warming.
New York’s AG even suggested harsher punishment than fines for skeptics, which he said were “insufficient” to punish those who opposed top-down global warming regulations.
“Financial damages alone may be insufficient,” AG Eric Schneiderman said during the event in New York City Tuesday. “The First Amendment does not give you the right to commit fraud.”
The AG’s event was sharply criticized by Exxon, business groups and other state AGs suing the Obama administration over rules targeting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
“Reasonable minds can disagree about the science behind global warming, and disagree they do. This scientific and political debate is healthy, and it should be encouraged,” Oklahoma AG Scott Pruitt and Alabama AG Luther Strange said in a joint statement Wednesday.
“It should not be silenced with threats of criminal prosecution by those who believe that their position is the only correct one and that all dissenting voices must therefore be intimidated and coerced into silence,” Pruitt and Strange said. “It is inappropriate for State Attorneys General to use the power of their office to attempt to silence core political speech on one of the major policy debates of our time.”
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