One month ago, we wrote about a brazen attempt by Exxon to neuter the lawsuits against it filed by 8 California cities and counties. Part of its argument was that the plaintiffs were in cahoots and were part of a grand conspiracy against the company because many of them were using the same law firm. That would be like saying the states that sued the tobacco companies were engaged in a conspiracy rather than attempting to hold evil doers responsible for their sins.
But Exxon wasn’t done. It argued that the suits against it were a violation of Texas sovereignty and that, if it hid the truth about the impact of its business activities on the environment, it had every right to do so because lies are protected “free speech.” A lower court ruled in 2020 that Exxon’s claims were stupid, idiotic, and groundless, but the company appealed that ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.
Ordinarily, one would assume that court, jam-packed with far right stooges beholden to the oil industry, would smile favorably on Exxon’s petition, especially since alleged Governor Greg Abbott personally filed a brief with the court in support of Exxon’s claims. It didn’t hurt that Abbott himself appointed many of those same judges to the Texas Supreme Court. It certainly seemed as though the fix was in.
A Bad Day For Exxon
It was not. Last week, the Texas Supreme Court rejected Exxon’s appeal. BAM! Just like that, Exxon lost a round it thought it couldn’t lose because the result was hardwired in its favor by the Byzantine laws of the Lone Star state. The ruling means the suits filed in California can now proceed (hopefully some of us will still be alive when they reach their conclusion).
Those legal actions are seeking to recover billions of dollars from Exxon and other oil companies to pay for costs related to sea level rise, wildfires, and other damages caused by the companies’ oil and gas products. They cite Exxon’s well-documented campaign to deceive the public about the “catastrophic” climate harms the company’s own scientists told executives decades ago that their oil and gas products would cause.
The Center for Climate Integrity
In an email to CleanTechnica, Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, said, “Exxon’s bizarre legal arguments were a blatant attempt to intimidate and harass critics who dared to hold the company accountable for its climate deception. The First Amendment does not protect companies that lie about the danger of their products. The fact that Texas courts rejected Exxon’s ploy is a reminder that even powerful corporations are not above the law. When polluters lie, make a mess, and stick communities with the bill, those communities deserve their day in court to hold the polluters accountable.”
Common Dreams adds, “This is the second court loss for Exxon in the last ten days. On February 8, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a climate accountability lawsuit several Colorado communities brought against the oil giant could proceed in Colorado state court.” That ruling came on the same day the US House Oversight Committee held a second hearing in its ongoing investigation of Exxon and other fossil fuel companies’ role in spreading climate disinformation, hearings that the companies have steadfastly refused to cooperate with. That’s no surprise, since many members of Congress owe their seats to campaign contributions from those same companies.
Since 2017, the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia, as well as 20 city and county governments in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, and Washington, have filed lawsuits to hold major oil and gas companies accountable for deceiving the public about their products’ role in climate change.
The latest report from the National Ocean Service — compiled with input from NOAA, NASA, the Corps of Engineers, Homeland Security, and the Defense Department — shows the seas along the coastal areas of America will rise an average 12 inches in less than 30 years. In some areas — Florida and states that border the Gulf of Mexico — sea level rise could be significantly higher.
The culprit is primarily the carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere when fossil fuels — coal, oil, and methane — are burned. Those fuels have powered the Industrial Revolution and the global economy for the past 2 centuries. They provide much of our electricity, heat our homes, power our factories, and fuel our vehicles.
They are also killing us. Not only do they create poisonous oxides of nitrogen, they also create fine particulate matter — particles so small they cross directly into the blood stream in the lungs. Fine particulates are now found in abundance in human placentas and breast milk. They cause cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, which in turn make people ill and shorten the life span of many. They alter cognitive function in children. Millions of people are adamantly — even violently — opposed to receiving vaccinations that protect against disease yet the same infuriated mob cares not a whit that the air they breath is contaminated with crud from burning coal, oil, and gas.
The waste products created when fossil fuels are burned are far more dangerous than asbestos or DDT or Freon ever were, and yet, while those substances were banned for the good of the Earth and humanity, civilization cannot seem to muster the resolve necessary to curb fossil fuel emissions.
It was one thing in the 1950s to celebrate the wonders of automatic oil heat and automobiles with gargantuan tail fins. We didn’t know the danger then, just as we didn’t know the danger of asbestos or DDT or Freon. The crux of the matter is that the oil companies — and Exxon in particular — did know of the danger of using their products many decades ago because their own scientists told them so.
It is they who conspired among themselves to keep that knowledge secret. It is they who decided to endanger the Earth and everything on it so they could continue makings gobs of money. It is they who conspired to buy politicians who would pass laws shielding them from the consequences of their actions. Had the truth been know a half century ago, the cost of mitigating the damage would have been negligible. Now it is nearly incalculable.
Even if Exxon and its fellow fossil fuel companies are held responsible for their sins, they will simply declare bankruptcy and walk away from the mess they created. Their senior executives will be laughing all the way to the bank as they snicker about the joke they played on humanity.
Instead of screaming about their First Amendment rights, maybe they should start acting ethically with regard to their obligation not to kill the planet that sustains us all? The principal failure of capitalism is it aggressively seeks ways to avoid or evade the consequences of its actions. There is no law that requires ethics to be a component of corporate behavior and so morality is largely absent in the business world.
Doing the right thing costs money. There’s no incentive to act morally, therefore there is no obligation to do so. That has to change.
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