By Lindsey de la Torre
Executive Director of the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project.
It has now been one year since public officials in San Francisco and Oakland teamed up with trial lawyers to sue manufacturers over the issue of global climate change. While the cases made headlines, they had much more trouble getting traction in the courts. So, where do manufacturers stand one year later?
In recent months, judges around the country have started putting the brakes on these lawsuits, agreeing with what manufacturers have been saying all along, that these issues are not for the courts to decide. This summer, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup rejected the public nuisance suits by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland. He stated that “the problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case” and concluded that the legislative and executive branches are better situated to address this global issue rather than the judiciary.
As a former governor and senator for Virginia and working with business people in the private sector, I have had thousands of chances to see the strength of our commonwealth’s manufacturing sector and the competition they face in other states and countries.
Today, manufacturing employs some 230,000 hardworking Virginians in well-paying jobs. The work of these men and women contributes more than $42 billion to Virginia’s economy.
So when groups outside Virginia conspire to threaten our proud manufacturing tradition and competitiveness, I say it’s time to flash caution lights. We need to be prepared to fight back. What is this threat? Across America today — from Rhode Island to California and as nearby as neighboring Maryland — specialty trial lawyers and politicians are teaming up to sue manufacturers.
This summer has been a difficult one for environmentalists hoping to use court cases to force energy companies like Exxon Mobil, BP, and Shell to pay for damages associated with global warming. In both New York and California state courts, highly publicized cases filed by the cities of New York, Oakland, and San Francisco failed to persuade judges. Now the cities of Oakland and San Francisco are continuing the fight by filing motions to appeal in the 9th Circuit Court
At the end of June, U.S. District Judge William H. Alsup dismissed the cases, saying that the courts were not the appropriate place to solve the climate change problem.
“The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case,” said Alsup in his decision.
With their busy schedules and tight state budgets, Democratic attorneys general have little in the way of time and resources to advance climate-change policies, which is where billionaire Michael Bloomberg comes in.
The former New York City mayor’s fortune has bankrolled a year-long effort to place privately funded lawyers as “special assistant attorneys general” in at least six states with specific instructions to work on “clean energy, climate change, and environmental interests.”
The program, run through the New York University School of Law, comes as the most disturbing example of the “billion-dollar per year climate industry” gaining access to law-enforcement authority in pursuit of a political agenda, according to a report released Wednesday by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Manufacturers called on the Supreme Court Monday to reverse a California court’s landmark decision ordering companies to pay for lead-paint removal in the state.
The National Association of Manufacturers filed a petition with the Supreme Court on Monday to review and overturn the 2017 California appeals court ruling, which the group argues is an abuse of the legal system that sets a bad precedent for all industry and the broader economy.
This past Thursday, I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable discussion to address the public nuisance-based climate lawsuits in California. The event, held just following the one-year anniversary of the first misguided lawsuits in our state, included mayors from California cities and representatives from the California Manufacturers & Technology Association and the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project.
As a mayor, I am deeply concerned about the effects these lawsuits could have on California’s economy and the threats they could pose to manufacturing in our region. I am frankly appalled that any local government would endorse these kinds of lawsuits, which pose great danger to jobs and investment in California. Let me explain why.
Baltimore’s top lawyer filed a lawsuit Friday against more than two dozen oil and gas companies that do business in the city, seeking to hold them financially responsible for their contributions to global climate change.
City Solicitor Andre M. Davis said the city will argue the companies violated state laws, including a consumer protection statute, by concealing and disputing links between fossil fuel emissions and climate change.
“The companies knew of the harm decades ago,” the former federal judge said. “If it had been disclosed, the problem of climate change could have been mitigated significantly. That’s our claim.”
The lawsuit, filed in Baltimore Circuit Court, follows more than a dozen similar complaints filed by governments around the country — some of which judges have quickly tossed.
Just Thursday, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit New York City officials filed against oil companies, echoing a 2011 Supreme Court ruling that called climate change “an undertaking for the political branches” of government.
Baltimore officials moved forward with a lawsuit Friday seeking to hold the petroleum industry financially responsible for climate change, a day after a judge threw out a similar claim filed by New York City.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and Solicitor Andre M. Davis said the city had filed a complaint in state court against 26 companies, arguing that the firms should compensate the city for damages allegedly caused by global warming.
“Baltimore has suffered, for example, two 1,000-year storms in the last couple of years,” Mr. Davis said at a press conference. “This is not right, this is not something we should permit to go uncompensated. And so we intend to seek relief.”
The timing of the Baltimore lawsuit was curious, given that U.S. District Court Judge John Keenan dismissed New York City’s lawsuit on Thursday, saying the matter should be resolved by the legislative and executive branches, not the judiciary.
Mr. Davis pointed out that those rulings were made by federal judges, while Baltimore has filed its complaint in state court, and that none of the decisions has so far gone through the appeals process.
“What we hope through this lawsuit is to take our claims to state court judges here in Maryland, who we believe will look at the matter afresh and see that we have legitimate claims of compensation,” Mr. Davis said.
Baltimore city officials are suing oil companies Friday for supposedly contributing to man-made global warming.
The city’s decision to sue comes a day after a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit from New York city officials leveled against Exxon and others. Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and city Solicitor Andre Davis will discuss elements of the lawsuit at a Friday news conference.
Cities in California, Colorado and Rhode Island have also filed similar lawsuits against energy producers over the past year. They argue that Exxon and others should pony-up money for mitigation efforts designed to forestall the effects from climate change.
Another judge dismissed the lawsuits in Oakland and San Francisco, arguing that the U.S. Congress is only the governmental body responsible for enacting policies needed to mitigate global warming. Manufacturers and conservative groups worry trial attorneys are behind the spat of climate litigation.
Trial lawyers with Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP handled climate lawsuits on behalf of the two California cities and New York City in exchange for a percentage of any winnings, called a contingency fee.
Hagens Berman stood to earn billions of dollars in contingency fees depending on the total winnings, from a favorable judgement against oil companies. The three cities claimed billions of dollars worth of damage from global warming induced by fossil fuels.