What do Big Oil and the gun lobby have in common?

Exxon-backed carbon tax proposal contains a poison pill: the elimination of all climate liability lawsuits

Worse than a PR stunt

Over the past year, Exxon and other big oil companies have received glowing praise for backing a carbon tax proposed by Americans for Carbon Dividends (ACD). ACD is the political action committee that supports the Climate Leadership Council, a nonprofit started in 2017 in conjunction with the launch of the Baker-Schultz carbon fee proposal.

While many lauded the company for its newfound commitment to climate legislation, some journalists and pundits missed key details on what the industry stands to gain in return.

Today, 14 cities, counties across the U.S. and the state of Rhode Island are suing big oil to recover the enormous climate costs polluters like Exxon knowingly caused.

Hidden in the fine print of Baker-Schultz (and some other carbon tax proposals) is a liability waiver: a guarantee of blanket immunity from any lawsuits that would require the industry pay damages for from past, present and future climate impacts. Effectively, a waiver would block access to the courts for citizens, businesses, municipalities and states, taking away the best mechanism left in play to hold the industry responsible for its misdeeds.

Only one major industry has achieved blanket immunity: gun manufacturers.

Bottom line: Big Oil is throwing support behind the proposed modest price on carbon in an effort to avoid paying for an epic legacy of pollution and deceit.

Snapshot of Damages

Straight out of the gun lobby’s playbook

The gun industry alone succeeded in shielding itself from legal accountability for damages. Big Tobacco also sought to eliminate all lawsuits against them through a congressional waiver of liability, but they — along with lead, the gasoline additive MTBE and asbestos— were denied.

At least $69 trillion

That’s how much a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius will cost global economies. Blanket immunity would forever leave taxpayers, communities, and local businesses on the hook for the bill.

$27,000 per ton

That’s how much a carbon tax would need to be by 2100 to keep future warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the IPCC, as opposed to the starting price of $40 per ton proposed by Americans for Carbon Dividends.

Another move in the long game of deception

Big oil companies like Exxon, Shell and Chevron have known that their products would lead to “potentially catastrophic” climate impacts since the 1970s.

Yet instead of leading the world through an energy transition that they were in a position to shape and profit from, the industry’s executives spent decades waging massive misinformation campaigns, manufacturing doubt about the science of climate change when they knew that no reasonable doubt existed. As growing impacts like sea-level rise and extreme weather events ramp up the cost of adaptation and resilient infrastructure, taxpayers are footing 100% of the bill.

Now, these companies are bartering their support for a flimsy tax on carbon for what they want the most: a “get-out-of-jail-free” card.

Not all journalists have missed the fine print, however. Some stories that address this hidden trade-off:

It’s equally important that this fossil fuel legal shield not be added to other carbon tax bills (e.g. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, introduced Nov. 27th by Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton and co-sponsored by FL Rep. Charlie Crist, which does not currently include a waiver) or added as a rider to any budgetary bills.