Energy Attorneys Say It’s ‘Futile’ To Compare Oil Industry To Big Tobacco

exxon mobilAttorneys with the energy industry argue ExxonMobil investigators cannot show how the company’s decision not to disclose internal information about climate change is comparable to the effect the tobacco industry had on public health.

Investigations into whether the oil industry misled investors, policy makers, and the public about how much companies such as Exxon and Chevron knew about global warming threatens to add momentum to an anti-fossil fuel campaign that compares the investigation to a decades-old investigation of the tobacco industry.

Law firms working with energy companies say lumping Exxon, among others, in with the tobacco industry is a fool’s errand — and a move that will never hold up in court.

Lawyers affiliated with energy producers dismiss such claims as mere “futile efforts” by a fledgling anti-oil movement to uproot several decades of case law. In order to hold defendants liable, Kevin Ewing, an attorney with the Houston law firm Bracewell, told reporters, their actions would need some direct link to pain inflicted on the plaintiffs in a case.

“Tobacco was shown to cause specific harm to specific individuals,” he added. “Not so with climate change, where we cannot yet discern the factual connection between a company’s conduct and individual harm, even though we can observe the global effects of climate change at large.”

Ewing’s comments come as environmentalist groups continue to ratchet up campaigns to tie one of the world’s largest oil producers in with cigarettes.

“If you look at the history of tobacco litigation through the first several decades, the result was always the same. The plaintiff always lost,” Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, told reporters Monday. “With each new case, more information came to public light. And that’s what we’re seeing here.”

Similarly, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, accompanied by Massachusetts Democratic Sens. Elizabeth and Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse, wrote a letter in May suggesting Republican efforts to stymie the Exxon investigation “reprises the tobacco lawsuit’s own early history of efforts from Congress to discourage or interfere with that lawsuit in order to protect the tobacco industry.”

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