Well-Funded Activists Target Exxon Again, This Time With Old Documents

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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An anti-fossil fuel activist group claimed Tuesday that the oil industry, not the tobacco industry, is to blame for originating Exxon Mobil’s “denial and deception” tactics.

Environmentalist group Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) wrote in a press statement Tuesday that public documents show , “the tobacco and fossil fuel industries used a shared playbook, but also suggests that playbook originated not with tobacco—as long assumed—but with the oil industry itself.”

CIEL, a group partially funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, unearthed public documents from the Tobacco Industry Archives that highlight the oil industry’s initial development of so-called denial and deception tactics.

“More than 100 industry documents drawn from the Tobacco Industry Archives demonstrate not only the legitimacy of the comparison between big oil and tobacco, but also reveal direct connections between these industries that go back far earlier than previously thought,” the group said in the press statement.

CIEL President Carroll Muffett said in the statement that the tobacco industry and the oil industry often used the same public relations firms to defend their positions.

“From the 1950s onward, the oil and tobacco firms were using not only the same PR firms and the same research institutes, but many of the same researchers,” Muffett said in the statement. “Again and again we found both the PR firms and the researchers worked first for oil, then for tobacco. It was a pedigree the tobacco companies recognized, and sought out.”

The epicenter of these tactics, Muffett added, came from the oil industry and was later refined by the tobacco industry.

“Big Oil” used the same tactics of “misinformation, obfuscation, and research laundered through front groups to attack science and sow uncertainty on lead, on smog, and in the early debates on climate change,” Muffett said.

The attorney who litigated and eventually settled the tobacco cases in the 1980s and 1990s disagrees with Muffett’s version of events.

Dennis Vacco, a former New York attorney general who actually litigated and settled the tobacco cases, argued in a Washington Post editorial earlier this month that the Exxon case is nothing like the lawsuits brought against the tobacco industry.

“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,” Vacco stated.

Muffett has attempted to tie the oil industry to the tobacco industry in the past.

“If you look at the history of tobacco litigation through the first several decades, the result was always the same. The plaintiff always lost,” he told reporters June. “With each new case, more information came to public light. And that’s what we’re seeing here.”

Muffett, who also sits on the board of the Climate Accountability Institute, was one of the participants in a meeting at the Rockefeller Family Fund offices where anti-Exxon activists and environmentalists worked feverishly on how they could establish “in the public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution.”

The crusade to connect the tobacco industry to the oil industry has received frosty treatment from the overall energy industry, with some calling the movement a futile effort by activists to tar and feather the oil industry.

Attorneys with the energy industry argue investigators cannot show how the company’s decision not to disclose internal information about climate change is comparable to the effect the tobacco industry had on public health.

In order to hold defendants liable, Kevin Ewing, an attorney with the Houston law firm Bracewell, told reporters in June, their actions would need some direct link to pain inflicted on the plaintiffs in a case.

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