June 15, 2017

Time to Wake Up: Fall is Coming

Mr. President, however loud, persistent, and powerful the climate denial operation has been, we have to remember that it has always been built on lies. It is a huge fortress of lies stacked upon lies.

Lies about the science, lies about the scientists, lies about doubt, lies about costs, lies through phony front groups, and lies about where the money comes from and who is pulling the strings.

This fortress of lies protects a subsidy to the fossil fuel industry that the International Monetary Fund puts at $700 billion per year. For big, big money, you can do big, big lies, and they do.

These have been the biggest lies of our generation. But to paraphrase the great reggae singer Jimmy Cliff: “The bigger you lie, the harder you fall.”

To paraphrase the “Game of Thrones,” “The fall is coming.”

In the last few weeks, there has been news that has shaken this fortress of lies and moves us toward that fall. Shareholders are rising up.

For as long as there have been shareholder resolutions to fossil fuel companies about climate change, there has been resolute opposition from management to every vote. Hundreds of shareholder resolutions went down to defeat until now.

Occidental Petroleum shareholders last month won the first victory against management, and a week later mighty ExxonMobil was defeated by its shareholders. This new reporting that shareholders have demanded will help clear away the lies.

The fall is coming. There are even lies within the lies. To fend off this latest shareholder resolution to try to make the company look less irresponsible, ExxonMobil’s CEO repeated the company’s claim that it knows climate change is real and supports a carbon fee–but it doesn’t.

As everyone in this building knows, ExxonMobil maintains a massive lobbying apparatus in Washington, and that massive apparatus is and always has been resolutely opposed to any such thing as a carbon fee or any serious climate action whatsoever, for that matter, unless maybe ExxonMobil doesn’t know what its own vast lobbying apparatus is doing.

Maybe ExxonMobil spends that enormous amount of money to exert its influence in Washington to stop any climate action, and the CEO is unaware of that going on. I doubt that. You be the judge of whether that is credible.

It is not just shareholders rising up; attorneys general are starting to win.

The attorney general of New York has just filed pleadings in State court in New York asserting that ExxonMobil’s climate reporting has been a “sham’”–to use the word from his filing; that, in the oldest of accounting tricks, ExxonMobil kept two sets of books assessing carbon pollution risk. After fierce opposition by ExxonMobil lawyers using every trick in the book to delay and snarl the New York attorney general, it looks now as if ExxonMobil may have lied to its investors and its shareholders. If ExxonMobil has lied to its shareholders, that is a violation of law.

That fall comes hard indeed.

Secretary of State Tillerson evidently knew of and approved the two sets of carbon pollution books when he was CEO of ExxonMobil. We will see where this goes, but of all the people around Trump who might be indicted, now we might add the Secretary of State.

The Attorney General of Massachusetts is also pursuing ExxonMobil against equally fierce tactics by ExxonMobil lawyers. To try to get away from the Massachusetts attorney general, the lawyers even went so far as to claim–get this–that ExxonMobil was not doing business in Massachusetts; that it didn’t have the minimum contacts with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts necessary for the State even to assert jurisdiction. Well, the judge virtually laughed that argument out of court, but it shows how desperate ExxonMobil must be feeling as it tries to wriggle away from having to answer questions under oath.

Nothing turns a big lie into a hard fall better than having to put that right hand up and give truthful testimony and face cross-examination under penalty of perjury.

Will the Securities and Exchange Commission take a look at this sham reporting, too, or has the Federal government, under Trump, degenerated into such a fossil fuel banana republic that no Federal agency will do its job against that industry or might it even chime in on the side of industry Pruitt-style?

Do you remember the question of whether the fossil fuel climate denial operation merits investigation under Federal civil racketeering laws? The tobacco industry was sued under Federal civil racketeering laws by the U.S. Department of Justice so there is a model. You may remember that the question as to the fossil fuel climate denial operation was referred by Attorney General Lynch to the FBI–or so she testified.

One wonders, did the FBI ever take an honest look? What was the outcome? Was there ever a report? Are they still looking at it?

Remember that the Department of Justice won its civil racketeering case against the tobacco industry, they won it at trial, and they won again on appeal. The woman who won that case for the Department of Justice, the lead trial attorney for the Department, has said publicly that this climate denial operation also merits investigation as fraud. That would seem to be a knowledgeable opinion from the woman who won the last case, an opinion perhaps worth heeding, but did anything happen? Will anything happen?

Forget too big to fail or too big to jail. Is the power of the fossil fuel industry now so great that it is too big even to investigate, even by the Department of Justice? Does it now take State attorneys general to do the job because the Federal government is so owned now by the fossil fuel industry?

Think about it. What if the FBI reported to the Attorney General that there was a meritorious fraud case arising out of all the lies propping up climate denial? Who believes Attorney General Sessions would allow that case to go forward against his party’s biggest backer?

Well, the bigger the lie, ultimately, the harder the fall. One way or the other, this fact remains constant and true. There always will come a day of reckoning. With these shareholder victories and with these attorneys general victories, that day of reckoning is closing in–the day when they have to put that right hand up and testify truthfully and under oath, not just send out spin through front groups and operatives but testify truthfully under penalty of perjury.

It is long overdue for truth to have its day.

I yield the floor.