Three Democratic lawmakers have sent a letter to the Justice Department calling for an investigation into whether Royal Dutch Shell knowingly misled the public about the dangers of climate change.
In a February 17 letter, Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Matt Cartwright (D-PA) asked U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to open an investigation into Shell’s climate history, stating that a growing body of evidence suggests that there could be “a conspiracy between Shell, ExxonMobil and potentially other companies in the fossil fuel industry.”
Earlier this year, a series of investigative pieces published first by InsideClimate News, and later the Los Angeles Times, revealed that scientists at ExxonMobil knew about the dangers of climate change as early as 1977, and yet continued to fund public misinformation campaigns that cast doubt on the reality and severity of the problem.
A related investigation, published by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times, found that Exxon was not alone in its climate knowledge: a group of leading oil companies and the American Petroleum Institute ran a task force that shared knowledge about climate science between 1979 and 1983. According to the investigation, companies involved included Exxon, Mobil, Amoco, Phillips, Texaco, Shell, Sunoco, Sohio, as well Chevron predecessors Standard Oil of California and Gulf Oil.
Following revelations that Exxon willfully misled the public on climate change, several politicians — including both Democratic presidential candidates — called for a federal investigation into the claims. Both California and New York’s attorneys general have also started investigations into Exxon. MoveOn.org has petitions asking that attorneys general in Oregon and Washington also open similar investigations.
This is the first time that legislators have formally asked for an investigation into Shell, however.
“The Department of Justice (DOJ) successfully prosecuted tobacco companies for colluding within their industry to deliberately mislead the public,” the letter reads. “We ask that the DOJ similarly investigate Shell for participating with ExxonMobil’s sustained deception on climate science.”
Climate activists praised the letter, calling it an important step in the fight to shine a light on the fossil fuel industry’s history of public misinformation and manipulation.
“Ted Lieu and the other signatories of this letter are providing the kind of leadership that the american people both need and deserve from our elected officials,” Brad Johnson, executive director of Climate Hawks Vote, told ThinkProgress. “Exxon deserves the reputation as the ringleader, but in the fossil fuel industry, all of the companies have engaged and participated in this process.”
Shell responded to the letter by stating that “Shell’s public position on climate change and the challenge CO2 poses is well known and can be documented for over a decade through publications such as the Shell Annual Report and the Shell Sustainability Report. Recognizing the climate challenge and the role energy has in enabling a decent quality of life, we continue to pursue and advance constructive dialogue on this topic as the challenge is one for all of society.”
Despite the company’s recognition of climate change, Shell’s business model continues to rely on the extraction of fossil fuels, which when burned for energy are the primary cause of global warming. In the 2000s, anticipating a government-mandated price on carbon, Shell invested in renewable energy, only to walk back on those investments. In September of 2015, after spending billions of dollars on exploratory drilling operations in environmentally-sensitive regions of the Arctic, Shell abandoned those efforts indefinitely, but said that the company “continues to see important exploration potential in the basin.”
You can read the representatives’ letter in full here: