Democrats have requested that the US Department of Justice investigate major oil companies and their trade groups after a congressional investigation found that the industry had been misleading the public about climate change for decades, the US Senate Committee on the Budget said in a statement.

US Democrats published a report in early May that took three years to compile. The report outlines how major fossil fuel producers such as Shell, BP and Exxon have attempted to evade accountability for the climate crisis. 

The 65-page report, co-authored by the Democrats House Committee on Oversight and Accountability and the Senate Committee on the Budget, includes documents obtained from large oil companies through subpoenas.  

On 22 May, two members of the Democratic party, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representative Jamie Raskin, summarised the results of the three-year investigation into Big Oil in a letter addressed to US Attorney General Merrick Garland and urged the Justice Department to intervene. 

The letter follows multiple House Oversight Committee hearings and memoranda, as well as the release of a joint staff report and a Senate Budget hearing.  

“Our investigation revealed how Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP, the American Petroleum Institute (API), and the Chamber worked in concert to mislead the public, policymakers, and investors with public promises to reduce emissions and meaningfully contribute to the transition away from oil and gas, while privately seeking to lock in continued fossil fuel production for decades into the future,” wrote Whitehouse and Raskin.   

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The joint investigation into the API, BP America, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell Oil Company and the US Chamber of Commerce revealed fresh evidence of the fossil fuel industry’s consistent use of misleading statements concerning its merchandise, their impact on the climate, and its strategies to minimise emissions and address climate change. 

“The investigation also demonstrated that the fossil fuel industry continues to knowingly obfuscate the dangers of natural gas, which they have billed as a clean and green fuel. This evidence, combined with the entities’ failure to comply fully with validly issued congressional subpoenas, suggests that further investigation by the executive branch is warranted,” the letter said.  

The investigation documents disclosed, for the first time, that fossil fuel companies privately recognised as early as the 1960s that the combustion of fossil fuels contributes to climate change. Despite this, they actively sought to diminish public awareness of this reality and to challenge the underlying science for many years. 

Shell disputed the conclusions drawn by the report when the story was initially reported, while bp and ExxonMobil did not respond to a request for comment.