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The In-Kind Research and Money Supporting Climate Litigation

Today, the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project (MAP) released the second chapter of Beyond the Courtroom: A Closer Look at Climate Litigation in the United States, a report that details the extensive infrastructure of the climate liability campaign targeting manufacturers. Chapter Two—“The Complex Web of Philanthropies, Researchers and Nonprofits Supporting Litigation”—takes a close look at the groups and individuals funding, coordinating and supporting this litigation campaign.

Here are key excerpts from Chapter Two:

Funding the Research

“Far from a David-versus-Goliath endeavor, this effort is being waged by a coordinated network of individuals, nonprofit organizations and academics, and is backed by some of the most powerful private funders in the United States.” Specifically, lawyers and organizations filing the lawsuits for the various localities are receiving funds for the very purpose of waging this liability campaign.

  • The Niskanen Center, which is involved in the Boulder lawsuit, “has received at least $3.37 million from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Foundation (RBF), and Energy Foundation since 2015.”
  • “Since March 2016, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has donated $1.5 million to EarthRights International (ERI).” ERI represents Boulder County, San Miguel County and the City of Boulder in their climate lawsuit against energy manufacturers.
  • The Global Warming Legal Action Project (GWLAP)—which filed the first climate liability lawsuit, AEP v. Connecticut—“received nearly $900,000 from organizations including the Wallace Global Fund, RBF, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Energy Foundation, and the Tides Foundation.”
  • “The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, RBF and Oak Foundation have donated more than $1.4 million to the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) since 2011. In 2018, CLF received an additional $2.4 million from the Barr Foundation.” CLF has been active in bringing lawsuits against energy manufacturers in New England for years.

Coordinating the Litigation Network

Chapter Two also examines how these funders are coordinating the liability campaign, from hosting a 2012 conference in La Jolla, California that set the stage for the current round of lawsuits to a 2016 closed-door meeting to fine-tune their approach and target specific companies. Specifically, these meetings involved discussions about:

  • Developing a “rapid response and coordination structure to react to new research, revelations and legal developments as they happen,” as well as setting up a “war room, joint social media, and coordinate organizing and media pushes.”
  • ”How to coordinate their campaigns targeting state attorneys general and the U.S. Department of Justice.”
  • “A roadmap for the strategies and arguments this interconnected network of philanthropists, academics, activists, and lawyers would put forth in their effort to target energy manufacturers in the courts.”

Developing Research and Allies for Litigation

In addition, “[a]cademics, foundations and nonprofits are assisting [the lawyers] with the legal research needed for their lawsuits, helping to generate media attention for the underlying issues, and trying to bring ‘outside’ credibility to this liability campaign credibility to this liability campaign—all the while trying to maintain the façade of an organic, grassroots movement.” Examples include:

  • Graduate fellows in the Columbia University School of Journalism writing a series of articles on ExxonMobil to examine the company’s documents related to its climate science research. It was later found out that this project was supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, Rockefeller Family Fund, Energy Foundation, and Open Society Foundation.
  • The Yale Law School’s partnership with the San Francisco City Attorney’s office to establish the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project (SFALP). According to SFALP’s website, Yale students are conducting “hundreds of research hours” and are “invaluable to attorneys” on the city’s climate case.

Future chapters will look into other aspects of this tightly coordinated campaign, including media outlets and public affairs teams that are advancing the messaging of climate lawsuits.