Senators Introduce “Merchants of Doubt” Amendment Into Energy Bill, Call On Fossil Fuel Industry To End Climate Denial and Deception

Democratic U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Ed Markey (MA) and Brian Schatz (HI) introduced an amendment into the energy bill yesterday intended to express Congress’s disapproval of the use of industry-funded think tanks and misinformation tactics aimed at sowing doubt about climate change science.

The amendment evokes the history of notorious anti-science efforts by the tobacco and lead industries to avoid accountability for the damage caused by their products, focusing similar ire on the fossil fuel industry’s decades-long climate cover-up.

Although it doesn’t name specific companies, the amendment is surely inspired by recent revelations about ExxonMobil’s early and advanced knowledge of the role of fossil fuels in driving climate change — which was followed by the company’s subsequent, unconscionable climate science denial efforts.

Just as tobacco and lead companies sowed doubt about the dangers of their products through the use of front groups and third-party experts, so did ExxonMobil — through its funding of a sophisticated network of denialists — work to deceive the public about climate science and the need for political action to end the fossil fuel era.

The most recent and damning #ExxonKnew revelations were published late in 2015 in investigative articles by both InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times in collaboration with the Columbia School of Journalism.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) joined the amendment as a co-sponsor once it was introduced.

It is the sense of the Senate that according to peer-reviewed scientific research and investigative reporting, fossil fuel companies have long known about the harmful climate effects of their products,” the amendment reads.

[A]nd contrary to the scientific findings of the fossil fuel companies and of others about the danger fossil fuels pose to the climate, fossil fuel companies used a sophisticated and deceitful campaign that included funding think tanks to deny, counter, and obstruct peer-reviewed research; and used that misinformation campaign to mislead the public and cast doubt in order to protect their financial interest.”

In closing, the amendment lends support to the ongoing state Attorneys General investigations in both New York and California into what ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel interests knew, and when, about climate change risks and why the industry chose instead to attack the science to prolong its profits.

The amendment states the Senate “disapproves of activities by certain corporations and organizations funded by those corporations to deliberately undermine peer-reviewed scientific research about the dangers of their products and cast doubt on science in order to protect their financial interests…and urges fossil fuel companies to cooperate with active or future investigations into their climate-change related activities and what the companies knew and when they knew it.”

The Senate will continue deliberations on the full energy bill this week. Unfortunately, it is rife with fossil fuel industry giveaways, including expedited permitting for liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, subsidies for coal technology and more.

So it’s nice to see an amendment designed to shame, and hopefully stop, industry misinformation campaigns that have delayed much-needed action to usher the end of the fossil fuel era.