As the National Association of Attorneys General gathers in Washington, D.C., this week, the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project (MAP) would like to recognize staunch allies in the effort to defend manufacturers against misguided climate change lawsuits. A strong coalition of state attorneys general has been vocal in opposing these lawsuits, filing amicus briefs in several of the cases and participating in roundtable discussions hosted by the MAP. This coalition understands that climate change is not an issue that belongs in the courtroom, and recognizes the threat these unwarranted lawsuits present to state economies.
Fifteen state attorneys general filed an amicus brief opposing the climate change lawsuit brought by San Francisco and Oakland, stating “questions of global climate change and its effects—and the proper balance of regulatory and commercial activity—are political questions not suited for resolution by any court.” Nor, they wrote, should federal courts set national energy and environmental policy “on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis under the aegis of federal common law.”
At a MAP roundtable last year, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter emphasized both of those points as reasons he joined the amicus effort. As he explained, “This is policy, this needs to be in the legislature, it needs to be determined in Congress, particularly when we are dealing with national environmental policy. . . . In short, the courts are no place to determine national environmental policy.”
The state attorneys general also warn in their amicus brief that under the plaintiffs’ liability theory—which “involves nothing more specific than promoting the use of fossil fuels”—states themselves may end up as defendants in similar lawsuits.
In dismissing the Oakland and San Francisco lawsuits, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup agreed with the arguments presented by the group, ruling that the “scope of plaintiffs’ theory is breathtaking” and the problem of climate change “deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case. . . . The Court will stay its hand in favor of solutions by the legislative and executive branches.”
Beyond the concern of becoming a future defendant, state attorneys general are also concerned about the economic consequences that could result from these lawsuits. For example, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry wrote about the importance of manufacturing to his state and expressed his concern regarding the negative impact of climate change lawsuits on jobs. He urged responsible elected officials to oppose these lawsuits “for the sake of our economy and the future of our workers and manufacturers.” Attorney General Landry, who is also part of the state attorney general amicus effort, highlighted how “the legal system has thus far soundly rejected such lawsuits.”
These state attorneys general have voiced their views in other climate change cases as well. This includes the lawsuit brought by New York City, which is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. That brief urges the court to uphold U.S. District Judge John Keenan’s dismissal of the lawsuit.
The MAP is appreciative of this ongoing support and hopes other state attorneys general will also voice their opposition to climate change lawsuits that may gain temporary headlines but will do nothing to address this global challenge.