D.C. Sues ExxonMobil and Other Fossil Fuel Companies, Joining States and Municipalities Demanding Climate Deception Accountability

Statement by Rachel Licker, Senior Climate Scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Jun 25, 2020

WASHINGTON (June 25, 2020)— The District of Columbia today sued ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell for intentionally misleading District consumers about the role the companies’ products play in causing climate change, with the ultimate goal of protecting their profits. Filed by DC Attorney General Karl Racine in D.C. Superior Court, the lawsuit asks the court to order the companies to end their disinformation campaigns, provide relief for District consumers and pay civil penalties.

A day after Minnesota’s attorney general filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and the main oil and gas industry trade group, the nation’s capital has joined a growing chorus of communities across the country demanding redress from fossil fuel companies.

More than 70 percent of D.C. residents support fossil fuel companies paying their fair share of global warming damages and two-thirds of residents support local officials filing a lawsuit to make fossil fuel companies pay for a portion of the climate damages in their area, according to a June 2019 poll. Lawsuits filed by Rhode Island, Baltimore, and several California and Colorado municipalities have survived multiple attempts by ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel defendants to convince courts to dismiss the cases on procedural grounds or to move them to a federal court where fossil fuel companies are more likely to prevail.

Below is a statement by Rachel Licker, senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“When scientists sounded the alarm about the addictive and deadly effects of tobacco products, tobacco companies launched a huge campaign to mislead consumers and policymakers about the dangers of smoking so that lawmakers would not enact public safeguards. When scientists sounded the alarm about opioid addiction and predatory marketing to doctors and patients, opioid manufacturers doubled down on persuading doctors to endorse their products. When scientists, including some employed by ExxonMobil, warned that burning fossil fuels could catastrophically alter the climate, ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell funded decades-long disinformation campaigns designed to undermine climate science, while simultaneously unleashing an army of lobbyists to block state and federal policies that sought to limit global warming emissions to protect communities across the country.

“As a result, the nation’s capital and communities across the country and world now have to battle worsening floods, heat waves, wildfires and many other avoidable climate impacts.

“The worst of these burdens are being felt by communities of color and low-income communities that lack the resources of neighboring White and affluent communities to respond with adaptive measures. With this move, AG Racine is sending a message to fossil fuel companies, and all corporations, that they cannot leave D.C. residents to clean up their mess."

For more information on the District’s climate impacts, see UCS’s “Killer Heat” analysis, which found that on the current emissions trajectory, D.C. will face the equivalent to an additional month of days with a heat index above 100 degree Fahrenheit by 2050, and an additional two months by 2100.

For a compilation of 85 internal fossil fuel industry memos revealing a range of the industry’s deceptive tactics, including forged letters to Congress, secret funding of a supposedly independent scientist and the creation of fabricated grassroots organizations, click here.

To read the strategy that an American Petroleum Institute-organized group developed in 1998 to confuse the public, policymakers and the media about climate change by emphasizing “uncertainties” in climate science, click here.

For more documents revealing the deceptive tactics that the fossil fuel and tobacco industries borrowed from one another to shape public opinion and policy discussions, see the Center for International Environmental Law’s Smoke and Fumes database.