It’s time to hold Big Oil accountable in N.H.
Rep. Tony Caplan, Merrimack County, District 8, is a member of the Science, Technology and Energy Committee.
New Hampshire has never shied away from taking on powerful corporate interests, particularly those that knowingly sold dangerous products and lied to the public about them.
Over the years, the New Hampshire Attorney’s Office has taken tobacco companies, opioid manufacturers, and other fraudulent profiteers to court, and our state has successfully made these bad actors pay for the harm they have caused our residents.
Now I believe it is time for New Hampshire to hold accountable those who have conducted one of the most damaging corporate deception campaigns in history: the fossil fuel industry. Big oil and gas companies knew decades ago that their products would fuel climate change, but they turned to a campaign of doubt and science denial, protecting their investments and their shareholders rather than doing everything to mitigate what they knew of a potentially existential threat on a planetary scale.
A recent study peer-reviewed in the journal Science confirmed that Exxon scientists have been accurately predicting the rate of global warming since the 1970s, while oil company executives have simultaneously conducted an elaborate, decades-long public relations campaign to raise public question and doubt on this science.
To this day, thanks to the fossil fuel industry’s deception campaign, members of our political establishment will not fully embrace climate science. In the halls of our own Statehouse, members can be found reciting pro-fossil fuel propaganda.
Such an effective lobbying campaign has been amazingly successful for the oil industry, which has made an estimated $3 billion a day for the past 50 years, but tragic for the rest of us who have been forced to pay the price for deceiving Big Oil.
As the planet warms, New Hampshire is experiencing milder winters, hotter and drier summers, increased flooding and rising sea levels, as well as other fossil fuel-related damage that harms our local businesses, food systems, and public health and safety.
Who bears the costs associated with this new climate reality? Currently it is us, the public and the generations to come. But what if we made the polluters who caused this crisis — and lied about it for decades to protect their profits — pay instead? What would justice be in the case of such an extreme crime? Ultimately, this should be a matter for the courts.
For this reason, several of my colleagues and I introduced House Concurrent Resolution 5, which encourages the Attorney General to take appropriate legal action for the damages caused by the oil companies’ fraudulent and costly campaign to sow doubt among us.
If New Hampshire were suing oil companies for their climate deception, we’d be in good company. Seven other states, including four in New England (Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island) and more than 30 municipalities across the country have taken major fossil fuel companies to court for lying to consumers and claiming them for the harm caused by those lies arise caused.
Massachusetts is now preparing to take Exxon to court, and last year Rhode Island won a key ruling against fossil fuel companies in the same federal appeals court that has jurisdiction over New Hampshire.
Our state has taken on oil companies before and won. In 2013, ExxonMobil was fined $236 million for its role in polluting our water. After three months of testimony, the jury returned a verdict against Exxon in less than 90 minutes. If and when a jury hears the overwhelming evidence that the same company and others knowingly fueled the climate crisis and lied about it, leaving the rest of us to grapple with the consequences, I think it would take even less time to admit find guilty.