One of the Rhode Island Democrats involved in climate litigation against oil companies has a history of engaging in similar environmental lawsuits targeting the industry.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island joined state Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and other Democrats in a lawsuit designed to hold oil companies partially responsible for climate change. Whitehouse has a storied history of criticizing oil companies for what he believes is contributing to man-made global warming.
Kilmartin called the legal action a “landmark” step to address the damage global warming has caused in the state and any efforts energy companies can exercise to prevent climate-related problems. Rhode Island is the first state to hold companies accountable for climate change — other lawsuits have popped up recently, but they came from local counties and cities.
This isn’t Whitehouse’s first go-round in such litigation. (RELATED: Dem. Senator Hopes The DOJ Sues Global Warming ‘Deniers’)
He pursued a public nuisance claim against paint companies in 1999. The Rhode Island Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ruling in 2008, dismissing the case, noting that the state stretched the definition of public nuisance beyond a reasonable bound.
Sherwin-Williams Co, NL Industries Inc. and Millennium Holdings asked Rhode Island’s top court to reverse the 2006 court decision that could have forced them to spend at least $2.4 billion on cleaning up contaminated paint around the state. Whitehouse licked his wounds, shifted gears and moved instead toward taking on oil companies. (RELATED: Rhode Island Joins AG Crusade To Blame Oil Companies For Climate Change)
“A lot of people haven’t seen through the scam that’s being perpetrated,” Whitehouse told attendees at a League of Conservation Voters event in 2015. He was referring to lawsuits the Rhode Island senator wanted to foist upon climate skeptics and anyone who disagrees with his environmental positions.
“So that’s one of the reasons I hope that we get another lawsuit out of the Department of Justice, like the one they brought against the tobacco industry that showed that the whole fraudulent scam was a racketeering enterprise, held them accountable for it,” he added.
This is not the only time Whitehouse suggested the federal government prosecute global warming skeptics under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for being a “racketeering enterprise.” He essentially wants the Department of Justice to prosecute skeptics the same way it prosecuted the tobacco industry in the late 1990s.
Rhode Island’s newest lawsuit alleges the defendants’ “production, promotion, and marketing of fossil fuel products” makes global warming worse. Their lawsuit is like those in Oakland and San Francisco, claiming that Chevron and Exxon have an obligation to help pay for mitigation efforts.
Federal Judge William Alsup eventually nixed the California lawsuits. He ruled in June that it is inappropriate to blame oil and gas companies for global warming, noting that courts were not the appropriate venues to set domestic and international policy. Lawmakers were responsible for enacting legislation designed to tackle climate change, Alsup said.
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