The former attorney general of New York doesn’t think the case against ExxonMobil’s global warming stance has anything in common with the cases states and the federal government brought against the tobacco industry in the 1990s.
“I can tell you from experience that our fight against the tobacco industry has almost nothing in common with today’s campaign by several state attorneys general against ExxonMobil — despite what supporters of the effort would like you to believe,” Dennis Vacco, a Republican who was New York’s AG from 1995 to 1999, wrote in the Washington Post Thursday.
Vacco is attacking arguments made by Democratic lawmakers — one in particular — that the Department of Justice should open a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, investigation into oil companies, trade associations and nonprofits spreading “doubt” about global warming.
The former attorney general also called out an investigation by his successor, Democratic AG Eric Schneiderman, into how Exxon represented the risks of global warming to its shareholders. Schneiderman has also convinced other AGs to investigate Exxon and conservative think tanks as well, though those efforts have largely stalled.
“It is important to note that the fight against the tobacco industry was bipartisan and that never, during our battle to require the tobacco companies to meet their obligations, did we align ourselves with the industry’s business competitors,” Vacco wrote.
“In the current campaign, the attorneys general have linked up with investors in renewable energy in an unseemly alliance that presents serious conflicts of interest,” he wrote.
Vacco cited a June letter signed by 13 Republican AGs and noted an event Schneiderman hosted in March to announce more investigations into Exxon and support for green energy “featured a senior partner of a venture capital firm that invests in renewable energy companies.”
“Causing confusion — if that’s what happened — is hardly a crime, but to hold one party to a national debate to a higher standard tilts the debate unfairly in the other direction,” Vacco noted.
For years, environmental activists have been thinking of ways to punish oil companies for contributing to global warming. Activists have increasingly backed securities and anti-racketeering investigations by state and federal prosecutors, often drawing parallels between fossil fuel companies and the tobacco industry.
“In the case of tobacco, we found that the companies knew about the life-threatening, addictive nature of smoking but covered up that knowledge,” Vacco wrote, refuting such comparisons.
“In the case of global warming, ExxonMobil began research as early as the 1970s and was open about what it found in more than 50 papers published in scientific journals between 1983 and 2014, according to company documents,” he wrote. “ExxonMobil’s scientists have participated in the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since its inception and were involved in the National Academy of Sciences review of the third U.S. National Climate Assessment Report.”
“The tobacco companies were deceivers. ExxonMobil has been open,” he wrote. “But that doesn’t seem to matter to the politicized attorneys general pursuing the company. A chilling impact on public debate is not in our collective interest.”
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