"It’s because mounting evidence indicates that, like tobacco, the fossil fuel industry may have engaged in a deliberate, protracted fraud to mislead the public, to protect their profits, to the peril of us all...."
Last year, coal mining executives attending the annual meeting of the Rocky Mountain Coal Mining Institute were treated to a presentation on the future of American mining titled: “Survival Is Victory: Lessons From the Tobacco Wars.” As the title implies, the presentation laid out a path for the fossil fuel industry to weather a barrage of lawsuits and new safety and health regulations, modeled on the efforts of the tobacco industry in the 90s and early 2000s. (See John Schwartz’s story in The New York Times.)
Richard Reavey, the Cloud Peak Energy vice president who delivered the presentation, described the similarities between what Big Tobacco went through and the challenges facing coal today as “remarkable and eerie.” (We should take his word for it. Before working for Cloud Peak, a mining company, Reavey was an executive at tobacco giant Philip Morris for 17 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.) His advice to the coal execs: do what tobacco did and “cut a deal while we are still relevant.” After all, “a much more heavily regulated tobacco industry is still viable and profitable.”
Ironically, Reavey’s presentation on these similarities between tobacco and fossil fuel strategies has a much deeper parallel.
For decades, cigarette makers hid from the public and from policymakers the scientific evidence they had of their product’s dangers. The Justice Department brought, and ultimately won, a civil racketeering lawsuit against the major tobacco companies for carrying out that fraud. Today, researchers often compare this tobacco fraud on the public to the fossil fuel industry’s suppression of its research on the dangers of carbon pollution.
Dr. Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University has written about the pattern followed by both industries: hiring their own scientists to churn out favorable research; creating (and bankrolling) front groups to sow doubt in the public debate about scientific consensus, while obscuring the hand of the industry; and even attacking and harassing individual scientists whose work may discredit the industry propaganda. Professor Mann himself has been the target of vexatious “investigations” and efforts to intimidate and harass him, including death threats—just for producing peer-reviewed academic research shedding light on the effects of increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Dr. Robert Brulle of Drexel University has documented an intricate propaganda web of climate denial, with over one hundred organizations, from industry trade associations to conservative think tanks to plain old phony front groups. The purpose of this sophisticated denial apparatus, he says, is “a deliberate and organized effort to misdirect the public discussion and distort the public’s understanding of climate.” These are tactics that were developed, tested, and proven effective by the tobacco industry—and in some cases the very same front groups were involved.
Public lawyers demanded that the “tobacco files”" behind this fraud be made a public record. A recent analysis by the Center for International Environmental Law of millions of documents from these tobacco industry archives reveals close collaboration over the better part of a century between cigarette manufacturers and oil producers on research, lobbying, and public relations. The new book Poison Tea, by Climate Nexus Executive Director Jeff Nesbit, chronicles this same relationship.
In the book and film Merchants of Doubt, Drs. Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway identify spin doctors, spokespeople and even scientists-for-hire who were involved in the tobacco and now fossil fuel campaigns. Not only has the energy industry recycled tobacco’s strategies and front groups, it’s redeploying some of the same personnel, like Mr. Reavey, the coal convention presenter.
Sharon Eubanks, lead counsel on behalf of the United States in United States v. Phillip Morris, the federal tobacco litigation, has said she believes the government could make a case against fossil fuel producers very similar to the one she led against tobacco under federal civil racketeering laws. That’s not just because coal companies are openly taking cues from tobacco’s legal and regulatory fight. It’s because mounting evidence indicates that, like tobacco, the fossil fuel industry may have engaged in a deliberate, protracted fraud to mislead the public, to protect their profits, to the peril of us all.
by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)
original story HERE