Democrats Send Big Oil Investigation to Justice Department

(Bloomberg) -- Democrats are asking the US Department of Justice to investigate major oil companies and their trade groups following a congressional probe that concluded the industry spent decades deceiving the public about climate change.

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The three-year investigation, started by Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, accused Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., Shell Plc, BP Plc, the American Petroleum Institute and US Chamber of Commerce of engaging in a public relations “campaign of deception and doublespeak” while internally acknowledging that fossil fuels caused climate change since the 1960s.

“We believe that there is adequate evidence that fossil fuel industry companies and trade associations may have violated one or more federal statutes and that, accordingly, further investigation is warranted,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representative Jamie Raskin wrote in a May 22 letter to the Justice Department.

Read More: US Lawmakers Lambast Big Oil’s ‘Deception’ on Climate Change

The lawmakers are “setting a dangerous precedent by attempting to leverage federal law enforcement agencies to settle policy disputes,” Neil Bradley, the US Chamber of Commerce’s chief policy officer, said in an emailed statement.

The American Petroleum Institute criticized the move by Democrats as “unfounded political charade to distract from persistent inflation and America’s need for more energy, including oil and natural gas,” according to a statement from spokeswoman Andrea Woods. “US energy workers are focused on delivering the reliable, affordable oil and natural gas Americans demand, and any suggestion to the contrary is false,” she said.

The 65-page report was released by the two committees last month along with hundreds of pages of subpoenaed corporate documents. It accused the oil companies of a range of misdeeds including offering public support for the Paris climate agreement while internally acknowledging their business models were at odds with such a scenario.

It also said the companies erroneously touted natural gas as a bridge fuel to a cleaner future while ignoring its significant climate impacts; and it said the industry poured money into universities around the world to win support for the idea of fossil fuels being part of an energy transition.

“Our investigation into the fossil fuel industry calls to mind the historic congressional investigation into deceptive practices of the tobacco industry and its trade associations, which led to investigations and litigation by several state attorneys general and the Department of Justice,” Whitehouse, who leads the Senate Budget Committee, and Raskin, the top Democrat on the House oversight committee, said in their letter.

The Justice Department said it received the letter, but declined to comment further.

(Updates with Chamber of Commerce response in fourth paragraph.)

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