E&E News: Wanted: Fossil fuel whistleblowers

by Nick Sobczyk on Greenwire

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Published on December 09, 2019

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E&E News: Wanted: Fossil fuel whistleblowers

A new campaign seeks to expose climate-related corruption at fossil fuel companies, amid a slate of court battles and media exposés about the industry’s accounting of its greenhouse gas emissions and liability for climate change.

The National Whistleblower Center’s Climate Corruption Campaign, announced this morning, aims to educate potential whistleblowers about laws protecting them. The effort also hopes to help them lawyer up to prosecute companies for fraud, public misinformation campaigns about climate science and other wrongdoing.

“Individuals working in the fossil fuel and logging industries with evidence of fraud and other law-breaking in their companies should know that there are safe ways to report crime without losing their jobs,” NWC Executive Director John Kostyack said in a statement.

“Our campaign will help secure for whistleblowers protections from retaliation and, where feasible, rewards for helping prosecutors win large-scale penalties.”

The NWC, a nonprofit whistleblower advocacy group, says it’s the first sustained effort of its kind.

The group has enlisted attorney Sharon Eubanks, who in the early 2000s led the federal government’s successful Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) enforcement case against the tobacco industry, to contribute to the whistleblower campaign.

Eubanks, who recently joined NWC as chief counsel, testified before a House panel in October, when she drew comparisons between science misinformation campaigns run by Exxon Mobil Corp. and the tobacco industry (Climatewire, Oct. 24).

In short, she said Exxon embarked on a decadeslong conspiracy to cast public doubt on climate science, even as its own scientists did work that confirmed the emerging scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions were warming the planet.

“As in the case of tobacco, the oil industry’s campaign of misinformation was conducted by individual companies and by trade groups, advertisers and other proxies that spread its message of doubt,” Eubanks said at the time.

Exxon explicitly denies such allegations and says activists cherry-pick claims to cast the company in a negative light.

But the NWC campaign nonetheless is seeking to make Exxon and other companies deal with them.

In a blog post laying out the new efforts, Kostyack said that kind of misinformation campaign is the type of “potentially actionable fraud” the group is hoping whistleblowers can shed light on.

The group is also targeting potential fraud related to stranded assets, an increasingly important concern among shareholder advocacy organizations.

The idea is that fossil fuel assets could suddenly lose value if the regulatory and economic environment changes to account for a changing climate, or due to the physical risks of climate change.

Given that companies are continuing to make large new investments in fossil fuels, they may not be recognizing that risk, Kostyack wrote.

“Only company insiders would know the extent to which the impact of climate change-related risks on financial assets have been illegally concealed from shareholders, the IRS and the public,” he wrote.

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