Vermont senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders says he would direct his Justice Department to investigate fossil fuel companies for corruption stemming from their role in exacerbating climate change.
For decades, scientists and top executives at ExxonMobil knew their products were a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Reporting by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times found the corporation conducted extensive internal research and staff scientists warned corporate leaders about the far-reaching effects of burning fossil fuels.
The companies aggressively pursued profits, while casting doubt on the science of global warming.
In an interview with Iowa Public Radio, Sanders called that corruption.
“What do we say to executives at ExxonMobil and elsewhere who knew? Their scientists were telling them that climate change was real, their product was in fact helping to destroy this planet," Sanders said. "What my administration is about, and will be about, is to tell the corporate elite that not only do they have to end the greed, they have to end the corruption.”
ExxonMobil is in the midst of a legal battle in New York state alleging the company misled investors regarding the extent of its knowledge of how climate change regulation could impact the corporation's financial standing.
Sanders says the role fossil fuel companies played in exacerbating climate change is comparable to that of drug manufacturers spurring the opioid crisis, and that the industry should face legal liability in a similar way that pharmaceutical companies are.
“If somebody knows that the product that they are selling is killing people, that is illegal, my Department of Justice will throw the book at them and they will end up in jail,” Sanders said.
Sanders is campaigning on his anti-corruption message in Iowa this week with stops in Marshalltown, Des Moines, Newton, Toledo, Iowa City and Dubuque.