Emails: Eco-Activists Plotted Oil Industry Lawsuits Before Anti-Exxon Stories Released

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Emails released as part of a lawsuit against a George Mason University climate scientist show environmental activists had been working behind the scenes to “hold fossil fuel companies legally accountable” for their stances on global warming long before stories were published bashing ExxonMobil’s climate stance.

Peter Frumhoff, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote to a GMU climate scientist championing a letter asking the Obama administration to prosecute companies pushing global warming skepticism — spilling the beans that UCS had been working to get state attorneys general to prosecute fossil fuel companies.

“Just so you know, we’re also in the process of exploring other state-based approaches to holding fossil fuel companies legally accountable,” Frumhoff wrote in a July 2015 email, adding “we think there’ll likely be a strong basis for encouraging state (e.g. AG) action forward, and in that context, opportunities for climate scientists to weigh in.”

Frumhoff’s email was to GMU climate scientist Jagadish Shukla, who was asking the UCS head to support a letter he was sending to the White House. Frumhoff declined to support Shukla’s letter, and instead pointed to work his group did behind the scenes to take down fossil fuel companies.

“It would be very interesting — and perhaps very useful — to consider how calls for legal accountability will play out in the court of public opinion in different states/with different subsets of the American public –something perhaps we could work with you all on as this unfolds,” Frumhoff wrote to Shukla.

Frumhoff has been a major proponent of using government prosecutors to investigate fossil fuel companies that fund groups or individuals skeptical of catastrophic man-made global warming. Frumhoff was recently invited to brief a group of largely Democratic state attorneys general investigating ExxonMobil for allegedly misleading the public on global warming — a fact AGs tried to cover-up.

Frumhoff also participated in a 2012 meeting held in La Jolla, California where prominent environmentalists brainstormed how to bring legal action against companies funding global warming skepticism, citing the anti-racketeering case brought against the tobacco industry.

“A key breakthrough in the public and legal case for tobacco control came when internal documents came to light showing the tobacco industry had knowingly misled the public,” reads a memo of the 2012 meeting. “Similar documents may well exist in the vaults of the fossil fuel industry and their trade associations and front groups, and there are many possible approaches to unearthing them.”

Four years later, activists were trumpeting news articles published by InsideClimate News and Columbia University claiming Exxon knew about the negative effects of global warming for decades, but funded right-wing groups skeptical of man-made warming and opposed to overreaching federal regulations.

Frumhoff’s July 2015 email to the GMU professor came just two months before InsideClimate released its first report on Exxon’s global warming stance. Columbia University published its first anti-Exxon article in October.

Frumhoff’s email to Shukla was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (EELI). EELI released the emails Friday as part of their investigation into Shukla’s sending of a letter to the Obama administration, asking them to prosecute skeptics.

Shukla and 19 other scientists and researchers sent a letter to the Obama administration last year, asking officials to go after fossil fuel companies pushing skepticism. The signatories specifically backed calls for the Justice Department to go after skeptics using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) as suggested by Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

The letter blew up, and Shukla and his co-signatories found themselves facing a wave of public backlash in their call to prosecute those who disagree with them on global warming. What’s more is Shukla and his family were found to have taken $5.6 million from taxpayers over the years to fund a non-profit he runs.

Congress is now investigating Shukla’s potential misuse of taxpayer dollars.

“Since 2001, as President of IGES, Dr. Shukla appears to have paid himself and his wife a total of $5.6 million in compensation — an excessive amount for a non-profit relying on taxpayer money,” Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith wrote in March to the inspector general of the National Science Foundation.

Shukla’s group, called the Institute of Global Environment and Society (IGES), got virtually all of its funding from U.S. taxpayers, including the National Science Foundation, NOAA and NASA. IGES got some $3.8 million from taxpayers in 2014, according to tax filings.

That year, Shukla made $333,000 working part-time, and that’s on top of the lucrative salaries earned by his wife and daughter who were also employed by IGES. On top of this, he also got paid by GMU — possibly violating state law and university policies.

“It appears IGES may have improperly commingled taxpayer funds with private charitable contributions when it shifted $100,000 to an education charity in India founded by Dr. Shukla,” Smith wrote. “This raises concerns that taxpayer money intended to be used for climate research was redirected to an overseas organization favored by Dr. Shukla.”

Smith also cited a recent audit by George Mason University that allegedly shows Shukla was illegally “double-dipping” by collecting money from the NSF while also getting paid by Virginia taxpayers.

“In other words, he received his full salary at GMU, while working full time at IGES and receiving a full salary there,” Smith wrote. “This practice may have violated GMU’s university policy, his employment contract with the university, and Virginia state law.”

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