A year ago today, I was arrested by my friends with the Iowa State Patrol because Governor Branstad refused to hear the stories of landowners I’d met during my 400-mile walk along the Bakken Pipeline route. Thanks to a coalition of landowners, farmers, tribes, property-rights advocates and environmentalists, this fight is still on. For a handcuffed-stroll down memory lane, from my visit to the Governor’s office to the Polk County Courthouse, click here, here, here and here.
Democrat or Republican. Cubs or Cardinals. Tea or coffee. Regardless of where you come down on life’s biggest decisions, here’s a simple concept we all should be able to get behind:
When people behave badly, they need to be held accountable.
Since corporations are people, as we learned from Mitt Romney a few years ago, corporations who behave badly likewise need to be held accountable.
Alas, by now I should know better. Yet, it still surprises me when tough-love politicians — i.e., those who favor corporal punishment, the death penalty, drug testing of welfare recipients, etc. — want to let corporate offenders off the hook with a slap on the wrist, or more commonly, a slightly-smaller tax handout.
How badly has Exxon behaved? Well, if you thought Big Tobacco was deceitful for lying about its product while destroying enough lungs to kill 100 million people in the 20th century alone, that pales alongside Exxon’s assault on every lung on the planet.
Last fall, a brilliant piece of investigative journalism conducted by InsideClimate News revealed shocking truths about what Exxon knew about “the emerging science of climate change. The story spans four decades, and is based on primary sources including internal company files dating back to the late 1970s, interviews with former company employees, and other evidence…”
Forty years ago, Americans were mostly one big, happy family of climate deniers. Who could fault us? With little information available to the average person, climate change appeared to be but a muddled theory, potentially no more valid than spontaneous generation or canals on Mars.
But back then, there were those who knew exactly what was happening, including the top brass at Exxon. Like Big Tobacco, instead of dealing responsibly with the findings of its own scientists and researchers, Exxon worked “at the forefront of climate denial. It put its muscle behind efforts to manufacture doubt about the reality of global warming its own scientists had once confirmed. It lobbied to block federal and international action to control greenhouse gas emissions. It helped to erect a vast edifice of misinformation that stands to this day,” the report found.
Americans should be outraged. And the investigation launched by InsideClimate News last year should be just the beginning.
And it is just the beginning. Attorneys general across the nation are conducting their own state-by-state investigations. To his credit, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has expressed interest as well. Hundreds of Iowans have signed petitions encouraging Miller to investigate Exxon with the same tenacity he brought to bear with the tobacco lawsuit several years ago.
(On May 25 at 11 a.m., a coalition of Iowa organizations plans to present Miller with petitions calling for such an investigation. Details here. Please join us!)
Of course, not all Iowans agree. Just as Big Tobacco had its friends, so does Exxon.
Enter Iowa Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison. In his recent guest column, Holt defends Exxon, arguing against “using the legal system to silence businesses that do not subscribe to government’s conclusions on climate change.”
Silencing Exxon? Hardly. We want them to speak loudly — and truthfully — about everything they knew about climate change, and when they knew it. And we want them to speak before a court of law, if it comes to that.
These state-by-state investigations are not about suppressing dissent. From the perspective of an attorney general, charged with being the chief legal advocate of the public good, an investigation of this nature is about consumer protection, about holding accountable businesses that mislead the public.
Over the years, Iowa Attorney Tom Miller has done an admirable job in that role. Here’s hoping he’ll rise to the challenge again when it comes to Exxon.
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Thanks! – Ed Fallon