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One-Sided University of Hawaii Event to Promote Discredited Climate Lawsuits

Just one week after the University of Colorado School of Law hosted a forum for advocates of Colorado’s baseless climate litigation, the University of Hawaii is following suit. Today, the University’s William S. Richardson School of Law is hosting an event to highlight the potential for climate litigation in Hawaii. Unfortunately, just like last week’s event in Colorado, the University of Hawaii’s event is set to be another biased, one-sided conversation that will deprive attendees and students from hearing both sides of this complex and contentious issue.

Although no municipality in Hawaii has moved forward with a climate lawsuit thus far, today’s panel will include activists and attorneys that are either directly suing energy manufacturers or explicitly supportive of these lawsuits. Most notable is Vic Sher of Sher Edling, the law firm representing the plaintiffs in several of the climate lawsuits that have been filed against manufacturers.

Joining Sher are Ann Carlson of the University of California Los Angeles’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, who is consulting for Sher on his litigation, and Alyssa Johl, a longtime anti-manufacturing activist and board member of Climate Liability News, a website created to promote these lawsuits.

Notably, Johl’s Center for Climate Integrity is the organization behind the Colorado event last week and today’s event in Hawaii. The organization is a recently-formed nonprofit that aims to “educate” policymakers and the public about the costs of climate change and “supports efforts to make climate polluters pay their fair share.”

Also featured on Friday’s panel is Marti Townsend, who has led the Sierra Club in Hawaii since June 2015. Under her leadership, the Sierra Club of Hawaii has aggressively targeted energy manufacturers. Two years ago, under Townsend’s direction, the Sierra Club of Hawaii won a lawsuit where the Supreme Court of Hawaii ruled there was a state constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment. The case granted citizens the right to bring cases before the state’s public utilities commission – cases that are almost always skewed against conventional power generation.

Already, Hawaiians pay some of the highest utility bills in the country, something that hurts both citizens and manufacturers. Lawsuits like the Sierra Club’s only make the situation worse. But students at the University of Hawaii Law School are unlikely to hear about how aggressive climate litigation hurts the state’s economy since there the panel lacks any representative that could credibly speak for energy manufacturers.

In this respect, the event seems to be the continuation of a troubling trend wherein ostensibly balanced law schools host biased events that exclude relevant voices from the conversation. The University of Colorado Law School panel last week was focused on “holding fossil fuel companies liable for climate change.” This event was co-hosted by the Center for Climate Integrity and included speakers who were either directly involved in, or actively proponents of, the Boulder lawsuit. Any notion of a balanced discussion at the event in Colorado was addressed only as an afterthought, despite the involvement of high-level university administrators.

The Manufacturers’ Accountability Project regrets that these discussions treat manufacturers as enemies instead of allies. As MAP has often said, innovation and collaboration are crucial to making progress on climate change. Trying to tackle the problem through lawsuits will only delay action and distract attention from real solutions.