SACRAMENTO – A bill introduced to the California legislature in March in an effort to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for allegedly deceptive and fraudulent practices related to the scientific evidence surrounding climate change was passed by the state senate judiciary committee earlier this month.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and would extend the statute of limitations in state law to enable law enforcement to hold offending fossil fuel companies accountable for allegedly fraudulent statements made regarding climate change. 

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), an independent science group that is sponsoring the bill, said on May 3 that the bill was passed by the committee by a vote of 4-2. The deadline for consideration on the full senate floor is June 3.

“We now hope that California can stay at the forefront of holding fossil fuel companies accountable for their deception,” Deborah Silvey, of Fossil Free California, told the Northern California Record.

UCS said in a news release that The Climate Science Truth and Accountability Act (SB 1161) followed the release of internal corporate memos and other evidence purportedly showing that oil, gas and coal companies conspired since the late 1980s to deceive the public about climate change. The bill would extend the statute of limitations under California’s Unfair Competition Law to 30 years from four years.

“We are outraged that fossil fuel companies have known about the risks of climate change for decades, and that they spent those precious decades denying the science of climate change,” Silvey said. “They put their short-term profit ahead of the public good.” 

UCS said peer-reviewed research published in January 2014 by the science journal Climatic Change indicates 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of total global carbon pollution, and five companies have emitted 12.5 percent of total global emissions. Also, the research showed that 50 percent of the total global emissions of heat-trapping carbon pollution has been emitted since 1988, after the fossil fuel companies’ own scientists had agreed with the mainstream scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels was causing a rise in global temperatures.

“California already is experiencing the costly, damaging effects of climate change,” UCS California and Western States Director Adrienne Alvord said in a news release. “We want to ensure that the state has the ability to hold fossil fuel companies legally accountable for the decades of deception and damages they have caused to public health, property and the environment in California.”

UCS said the latest data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) show that February set yet another record as the planet’s warmest month since record-keeping began in the late 1800s. And UCS climate scientists say that global climate change is worsening regional harm in California.

For its part, Silvey said, “Fossil Free California is dedicated to convincing institutions to divest from all fossil fuels because of the severe risk they pose to our climate.”

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