The California Senate won't take up a bill that would make it illegal for businesses to not believe in climate change.
Senate Bill 1161 would turn not believing in climate change into an unfair business practice in California and would extend the statute of limitations on the charge. The bill has been criticized as being anti-free speech.
Democratic State Sen. James Monning took the bill off the Senate floor on Wednesday. The bill had passed both the state Senate's environmental and judiciary committees and can be reconsidered at a later date.
State Sen. Ben Allen, a Democrat, introduced the bill after reading reports in the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News about Exxon Mobil's alleged coverup of climate science dating to the 1970s.
According to the reports, which have been criticized for being funded by anti-fossil fuel groups, the company, then just known as Exxon, knew the burning of fossil fuels could cause global warming as early as the 1970s. However, the company suppressed that knowledge and continued with its practices, and even funded groups to promote an anti-climate change agenda, according to the reports.
Those reports have sparked a larger investigation into Exxon Mobil's practices by four attorneys general, and 16 others have promised to cooperate in some way.
Allen wrote in an analysis of the bill that the point of the legislation was to hold fossil-fuel companies accountable for actions they took decades ago.
"Keeping the statute limited to only four years may undermine the state's ability to hold fossil fuel companies responsible for their practices that extend back well beyond four years, as well as the damages and risks that Californians and everyone else must face for centuries to come," Allen wrote. "By extending the statute of limitations, California has the opportunity to hold these companies fully accountable for their actions."
A message was left with Allen's office seeking comment about the bill.
But many critics of the bill say it's an attempt to criminalize not believing in climate change and goes against the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech.
Marc Morano, a climate change doubter who runs Climate Depot, said the California bill is the logical end point of the debate between believers and doubters.
He said those who believe in climate change have been trying for years to silence doubters and now, given the calls to investigate Exxon Mobil for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act violations and the California bill, there are attempts to actually charge people for their beliefs.
"You can't even question the predictions of 50-100 years from now or that's considered hate speech," he said. "That goes against everything this country was founded on."
Morano said climate change believers want to delegitimize their critics instead of engaging in any sort of debate over the science. He said the bill proposed by Allen is another step in silencing dissent.
"This is the language of religion, not science," he said.
Frank Maisano, a D.C.-based spokesman for the energy industry, said the California legislature needs to think long and hard before deciding whether to take the bill up again.
"This is a bad policy that makes no sense, unless perhaps you don't believe in free speech," he said.