A newly publicized e-mail from a former Exxon scientist reveals that the world’s biggest oil company knew about climate change as early as 1981, yet continued to promote anti–climate change research until 2009. According to the Guardian, Exxon not only was informed of the risks of carbon emissions, but lent the science enough credence as to factor it into its decision on whether to drill the Natuna field, an immense natural gas reserve in the South China Sea.
Lenny Bernstein, the 30-year industry veteran responsible for the e-mail, states that “Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981”—seven years before a 1988 report to Congress brought the climate crisis out of the realm of scientists and into the public eye.
Bernstein’s e-mail suggests that Exxon could be on the hook for whistleblower lawsuits. Each year, Exxon receives hundreds of millions of dollars in federal tax provisions through various tax code mechanisms, such as Section 199 and Intangible Drilling Costs deductions. Exxon’s eligibility for these “breaks” in part depends on transparent reporting of their oil production activities to the federal government. However, as stated by the Guardian, until 2009 Exxon’s public position on climate change “was marked by continued refusal to acknowledge the dangers of climate change, even in response to appeals from the Rockefellers, its founding family….”
The email may be the first piece of evidence that could be used in a lawsuit against Exxon. Information from other former Exxon employees could then be used to expand a potential whistleblower claim. Whistleblower, or qui tam, lawsuits are an effective means by which citizens can combine efforts with government agencies to expose misconduct, malpractice, and taxpayer fraud. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates the qui tam lawsuits have recovered over $27 billion for the U.S. Government since 1986.
What this new e-mail reveals is that Exxon acknowledged the dangerous effects of carbon emission due to oil drilling, going as far as to factor the science into its fiscal decision-making. But instead of divulging those recognized climate concerns to the federal government, the company publicly denied the threat altogether. Thus, a legal case could be made that Exxon accepted government funds on false premises: Despite having early knowledge of the environmental impact of oil drilling, Exxon spent the next 27 years funding research and organizations that denied climate change. When brought to their attention, Exxon rejected the claim that they had given money to groups promoting climate denial. But this response is at odds with data collected by Greenpeace, which show the company has routed at least $30 million into networks that support anti–climate change efforts.
If you believe you or someone you know possesses information that could substantiate a whistleblower claim against Exxon or another company that receives government funds, contact Lopez McHugh today to speak free of charge with a qualified whistleblower/qui tam lawyer.