Climate Change Deniers Can Rest Easy Knowing The Democratic Party Isn’t Out To Prosecute Them

Unless the infamous climate denier Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) owns a public company and is lying to his investors about climate science, he is safe from prosecution. CREDIT: CSPAN
Unless the infamous climate denier Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) owns a public company and is lying to his investors about climate science, he is safe from prosecution. CREDIT: CSPAN

Last week, a couple right-leaning news publications published headlines suggesting that the Democratic Party wants to prosecute individual people who disagree with the scientific consensus on climate change.

This is not true, and the stories themselves don’t suggest it. But the headlines are conspicuously misleading. “Dem Party Platform Calls For Prosecuting Global Warming Skeptics,” screamed one headline from The Daily Caller. Townhall’s headline read nearly the same. The Washington Times went with “Democrats force Clinton’s hand on prosecution of climate skeptics.”

These stories are referring to the Democratic Party’s policy platform for 2016, a draft of which was released on Friday. The platform serves as the party’s guiding principles, laying out what modern Democrats should support, oppose, and wish to accomplish.

One of those principles in this year’s Democratic platform is support for Department of Justice investigations into public companies that have been accused of committing corporate fraud — specifically by lying to their shareholders about the state of climate science in order to turn a better profit.

This is the exact language in the platform:

All corporations owe it to their shareholders to fully analyze and disclose the risks they face, including climate risk. Those who fail to do so should be held accountable. Democrats also respectfully request the Department of Justice to investigate allegations of corporate fraud on the part of fossil fuel companies accused of misleading shareholders and the public on the scientific reality of climate change.

Clearly, this is much more nuanced than “prosecuting climate deniers.”

To understand what the Democrats are asking for, one must understand where the idea originated. Last year, InsideClimate News published a series of investigations suggesting that the oil giant ExxonMobil lied to its investors and the public about what it knew about climate change, how much it was contributing to climate change, and how climate change might impact the future of its product.

InsideClimate’s investigation — named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service — found that Exxon conducted research as far back as 1977 affirming that climate change is caused by carbon emissions from fossil fuels. At the same time, InsideClimate found, Exxon made public statements downplaying the risk and reality of the phenomenon. Despite knowing that its product caused harmful climate change, the oil giant also gave millions of dollars to politicians and organizations that promote climate science denial, and spent millions more lobbying to prevent regulations to limit carbon emissions.

Exxon’s Climate Cover-Up Should Be Investigated By DOJ, Tobacco Prosecutor SaysClimate by CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta A former U.S. Department of Justice attorney who prosecuted and won the…thinkprogress.orgExxon is a publicly traded corporation, and it is subject to securities, racketeering, and consumer protection laws, among other things. In a nutshell, a lot of those laws say public companies must be honest with their investors. If you own a dairy company, for example, it’s illegal for you to say you have 1,000 cows if you know you only have 500 cows. If you own a fossil fuel company, it’s illegal for you to say climate change isn’t happening and won’t impact your product if you know climate change is happening and it will impact your product.

Seventeen attorneys general are currently accusing ExxonMobil of just that. New York’s attorney general is also looking into the coal company Peabody Energy for similar reasons. And for what it’s worth, Exxon is pushing back — the company has launched counter-lawsuits against two attorneys general, accusing them of using the investigation for political purposes by “targeting the speech of political opponents.” Exxon claims the investigations violate their First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Either way, this is what Democrats are calling for in their platform: Department of Justice investigations into companies that have been accused of lying to their shareholders about climate change. Not prosecution of individual people for being wrong about science. This is not about what you, an individual, think about climate change. This is about public companies potentially engaging in cover-ups to lie to the people who give them money. Unless you’re in charge of a public company and you’ve been accused of lying to your investors about what you know about climate change in order to make money, you’re not going to get investigated — much less prosecuted — by the Department of Justice. You should be safe from the Democrats for now.