Progressive prosecutors should be taking a more aggressive stance against fossil fuel companies, advocates argue.

By Emily Atkin, Heated

The fossil fuel industry should be criminally charged with mass homicide for these deaths, according to a new and novel legal theory. Published by the Harvard Environmental Law Review last year, the argument goes that oil giants knew their products would have lethal consequences, yet actively thwarted efforts to protect people through misinformation and policy delay.

“Prosecutors regularly bring homicide charges against individuals and corporations whose reckless or negligent acts or omissions cause unintentional deaths,” wrote George Washington University law professor Donald Braman and Public Citizen climate director David Arkush.

Oil spill cleanup; Steven Donziger fought for the victims.

In their paper, Braman and Arkush urged state attorneys general across the country to pursue criminal charges against oil companies in addition to the multitude of civil cases already pending. They said that criminal prosecution—whether it be for homicide or criminal negligence—could be a more powerful and effective tool for spurring change than civil litigation, because a conviction or settlement could result in mandated changes to how fossil fuel companies operate. (They are “not trying to advocate for locking lots of people up,” they said).

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