Big oil is behind a conspiracy to deceive the public, says first climate racketeering lawsuit

Lawyers in a civil lawsuit launched by hurricane-hit cities in Puerto Rico explain why laws used to target mob bosses unacceptable for "decades of deception" in a lawsuit filed by a community in Puerto Rico devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

“Puerto Rico is one of the places most affected by climate change in the world. The position is so precarious – they get hit by hurricanes on all fronts, storm surge, heat, coral bleaching – this is the perfect place for this climate litigation,” said Melissa Sims, senior counsel for plaintiffs law firm Milberg.

The Extortion and Corrupt Organizations (Rico) Act of 1970 was originally intended to combat criminal enterprises such as the mafia, but has since been used in civil courts to prosecute damages caused by opioids, vehicle emissions, and even e-cigarettes as organized crime cases.

Now, Rico's first climate change case alleges that international oil and coal companies, their trade associations, and a network of paid think tanks, scientists, and other operators conspired to deceive the public - particularly Puerto Rican residents - about the direct link between the products of greenhouse gas emissions. them and climate change.

This fossil fuel company, which the lawsuit claims continues to operate, is causing much of the damage caused by the climate disaster that the defendants had foreseen – but concealed – to maximize profits.

The plaintiffs are 16 municipalities in Puerto Rico — cities and towns that were hit by two powerful hurricanes in September 2017, Irma and Maria — that caused thousands of deaths, food shortages, widespread infrastructure damage, and the longest power outage in US history.

Sims, a senior adviser, said: “What is different about [Rico's] case is that we have their company in writing – decisions by rival companies, their front groups, scientists and associations to act together to change public opinion regarding the use of their consumer products by telling people something they know is not true.”

According to the lawsuit – filed in US federal district court in Puerto Rico – the conspiracy evidence dates back to 1989 when the defendants, which include ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Rio Tinto, individually and through trade associations formed the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) as “a non-profit corporation to influence, advertise, and promote the interests of the fossil fuel industry by providing false information to their consumers and the wider public”.

He argues that so-called rival companies are conspiring for the same purpose – to deceive consumers and sow confusion in order to keep fossil fuel sales high and profitable – and that the GCC is a propaganda machine specifically set up to challenge the Kyoto protocol, the first such international effort. great for fighting climate change. To do this, a written action plan was devised in 1998 to mislead consumers by convincing them that "global warming" was not happening, and if it did, there was no scientific consensus as to whether fossil fuels were to blame.

In other words, the action plan is allegedly a climate change denial plan implemented through a web of dark money invested into think tanks, research institutes, trade groups, and PR firms, and providing a roadmap for public companies that is still being implemented today.

The lawsuit argues that oil and coal companies know Puerto Rico is a "sitting duck" because of its geographic location, which makes the island and its people especially vulnerable to climate change events -- namely hotter and wetter storms, extreme heat, and rising sea ​​water. levels - caused by their carbon products.

Over the past two decades, Puerto Rico – along with Haiti and Myanmar – was among the three regions most affected by extreme weather such as hurricanes, floods, heat waves and droughts, according to the Germanwatch Climate Risk Index, which is becoming more intense due to artificial global warming. humans are fueled by greenhouse gases. In September, Hurricane Ian left large parts of the island without power and water, and damaged critical infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

The damage caused by the 2017 hurricane – and the possibility of even worse climate disasters hitting the island in the future – was caused by the acts and omissions of the defendants, as oil and coal companies, together with their business partners around the world, collectively co-responsible for at least 40.01% of greenhouse gases, according to the suit.

It is the latest in a wave of civic class actions brought by cities - towns and cities - against companies and organizations accused of causing harm to residents. According to Sims, who also represented the city of Puerto Rico in the opioid litigation that resulted in damages compensation, citing having an almost unfettered ability to use nuisance laws and their local ordinances.

Sims, a Republican and Christian, said: “Cities across the country have woken up to this power and are starting to exercise their rights almost like mini attorney generals. They are now often the first to bring cases on opioids, Juul e-cigarettes, pollution, reversing red lines and now climate change, exercising their rights under racketeering and other laws we have helped adapt over the years.”

Seven oil companies, three coal companies, and hundreds of organizations and operators are among the defendants charged with consumer fraud, racketeering, antitrust, fraudulent fraud, conspiracy to defraud, product liability, and unjust enrichment among other crimes.

The American Petroleum Institute and the National Mining Association did not respond to requests for comment. A number of defendants expressed criticism of the lawsuit.

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