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MAP-ping Climate Liability Litigation’s 20-Year Campaign Against Energy Manufacturers

The Manufacturers’ Accountability Project (MAP) is launching a new report that traces the origins of climate liability litigation against energy manufacturers and looks into the many groups, lawyers and activists involved in the litigation. The report, “Beyond the Courtroom: A Closer Look at Climate Litigation in the United States,” examines how climate liability litigation has become more frequent despite failing to produce a successful settlement or court decision to date.

In the first chapter, released today, MAP introduces the key players in the climate liability litigation campaign—the municipalities, organizations and attorneys suing energy manufacturers. It also peeks behind the curtain to the non-profits and donors that are providing financial contributions, as well as legal and communications support, to the litigation. Future chapters, to be released throughout the summer and into the fall, will go further into this network and look at the strategies behind the lawsuits.

Many of the lawsuits in Chapter One rely on the tort of public nuisance—a theory for liability that pins liability on someone that unreasonably interferes with a public right. Here, the cases allege that the harm is the impact of climate change and the unreasonable activity causing the nuisance is the production, promotion and sale of energy products.  The remedy the lawsuits seek to achieve is to make energy manufacturers pay for so-called climate change injuries, such as future flooding and erosion.

Courts have consistently rejected this litigation. The United States Supreme Court essentially ended the first wave of climate liability lawsuits against the energy industry in the 2011 case American Electric Power (AEP) v. Connecticut. Two federal district courts have already dismissed cases this time around. As one federal judge observed, “would it really be fair to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded?”

Ultimately, Chapter One raises the question: If, as many involved in these lawsuits claim, they are hoping to make demonstrable changes that will protect their communities, why have they selected strategies and tactics that are time-consuming and don’t do anything to lower emissions? The answer, as future chapters will explain, lies in the intermingling of politics and money at stake in these cases.

What’s made clear, even from the beginning of “Beyond the Courtroom,” is that these lawsuits should alarm all manufacturers in the United States, not just energy manufacturers. They demonstrate how special interests and activists can distort the legal system and use it against companies that power our economy and provide a livelihood for millions in America even when they have no legal merit.

The report in full can be read here.