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Big Oil Conspired to Deceive the Public, Claims Climate Racketeering Lawsuit

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Lawyer for Puerto Rican towns describes why they are deploying laws used to target mob bosses.

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The same racketeering legislation used to bring down mob bosses, motorcycle gangs, football executives and international fraudsters is to be tested against oil and coal companies who are accused of conspiring to deceive the public over the climate crisis.

In an ambitious move, an attempt will be made to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for “decades of deception” in a lawsuit being brought by communities in Puerto Rico that were devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

“Puerto Rico is one of the most affected places by climate change in the world. It is so precariously positioned—they get hit on all fronts with hurricanes, storm surge, heat, coral bleaching—it’s the perfect place for this climate litigation,” said Melissa Sims, senior counsel for the plaintiffs’ law firm Milberg.

The 1970 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act was originally intended to combat criminal enterprises like the mafia, but has since been used in civil courts to litigate harms caused by opioids, vehicle emissions and even e-cigarettes as organized crime cases.

Now, the first-ever climate change RICO case alleges that international oil and coal companies, their trade associations, and a network of paid think tanks, scientists and other operatives conspired to deceive the public—specifically residents of Puerto Rico—about the direct link between their greenhouse gas-emitting products and climate change.

This fossil fuel enterprise, which remains operational according to the lawsuit, resulted in multitude of damages caused by climate disasters that were foreseen—but hidden—by the defendants in order to maximize profits.

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