WASHINGTON -- Two House Democrats are urging Attorney General Loretta Lynch to launch an investigation into allegations that oil giant ExxonMobil hid research, which verified that fossil fuels play a role in global warming.
In a letter to Lynch, Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) argue a probe is needed, to determine whether ExxonMobil broke the law.
Lieu and DeSaulnier's request is based on two independent investigations published by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, which document research conducted by a number of Exxon's senior scientists. Their findings warned of increases in the global temperature as a result of burning fossil fuels.
"In this case, Exxon scientists knew about fossil fuels causing global warming and Exxon took internal actions based on its knowledge of climate change," Lieu and DeSaulnier wrote. "Yet Exxon funded and publicly engaged in a campaign to deceive the American people about the known risks of fossil fuels in causing climate change."
"If these allegations against Exxon are true then Exxon's actions were immoral," they added. "We request the DOJ to investigate whether ExxonMobil's actions were also illegal."
The LA Times investigation found that while senior Exxon researcher Ken Croasdale studied the long-term impact of climate change on the companies operations, Exxon was "crafting a public policy position that sought to downplay the certainty of global warming."
The Inside Climate News piece chronicled work by Exxon scientist James Black, going all the way back to July 1977 when he told the company's management committee that the "most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels."
The publication noted that Black's assessment and presentations to Exxon bosses came before a majority of the world was aware of climate change and its potentially devastating effect on the environment.
Lieu and DeSaulnier offered a damning critique of Exxon in their letter to Lynch, comparing it to "cigarette companies that repeatedly denied harm from tobacco."
Since the LA Times and Inside Climate News reports were published, climate change advocates have criticized Exxon.
Environmentalist Bill McKibben called the company's actions an "unparalleled evil."
RL Miller, founder of Climate Hawks Vote, a super PAC that supports lawmakers pushing for action on climate change, praised Lieu and DeSaulnier's letter.
"Exxon’s malfeasance may constitute violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, the False Claims Act, or the Securities Exchange Act -- or all of the above," Miller said. "The Obama administration needs to act without delay to stop Exxon’s climate criminality.”
Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said the company "unequivocally" rejects the allegations.
"The media reports that are the basis for their allegations are inaccurate distortions of ExxonMobil’s more than 30-year history of climate research that was conducted in conjunction with the Department of Energy, academics and the UN International Panel on Climate Change," Jeffers said in an email. "Suggestions that ExxonMobil suppressed its climate research are completely without merit."
Jeffers pointed to some 50 peer-reviewed papers that Exxon scientists contributed to on climate change and carbon dioxide's effect on the planet "during the time when the media reports said we were suppressing climate science."
A recent blog post by Ken Cohen, Exxon's vice president of public and government affairs, said "nothing could be further from the truth," referencing the allegations in the LA Times and Inside Climate News pieces.
"It should surprise no one that we have remained committed to pursuing climate change research since that initial discovery," Cohen said.