Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders wants the Justice Department to investigate and potentially prosecute ExxonMobil for corporate fraud.
The Vermont senator is alarmed by reports that the energy giant spread doubt about climate change despite knowing since 1977 that global warming was both underway and fueled by its own operations. Bankrolling a disinformation campaign helped stymie climate action and “may have caused public harm,” Sanders said in a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
A tobacco-style case against the whole oil and gas industry on racketeering charges may sound unlikely, but prospects are growing. And all heavily compensated executives who run fossil-fuel companies should heed the federal trial of a de-throned coal king in Charleston, West Virginia.
Prosecutors accuse Don Blankenship of conspiring to violate health and safety laws and to cover up that wrongdoing. The former Massey Energy CEO was also indicted for lying to shareholders and financial regulators about his company’s safety practices after an explosion killed 29 men at its Upper Big Branch coal mine in 2010.
Investigators have tied the defendant’s reckless management style to the mine’s galling conditions.
While Blankenship’s personal legal woes technically have nothing to do with the fact that coal pollution is a big source of climate-disrupting emissions, the former executive calls global warming as a hoax. He supports climate-denial groups and attends their conferences.
The fallen coal baron refuses to apologize for the miners’ deaths or admit that he did anything wrong despite a damning parade of witnesses.
Blankenship also exposed himself as a heartless boss with his Nixonian penchant for recording his own conversations. And he abused his low-paid housekeeper so badly that he lost a West Virginia Supreme Court case over a labor dispute with her. Bill Taylor, the former CEO’s lead defense lawyer, admitted to jurors that his client is “rude and insulting.”
In short, Blankenship is a superb villain.