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Manufacturers’ Accountability Project Releases Report on Climate Tort Litigation

Today the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project released its full Beyond the Courtroom: Climate Tort Litigation in the United States report, which details the well-funded, tightly-scripted groups of activists, private law firms, public relations groups and academics behind the sophisticated campaign to influence municipalities and others’ decisions to bring climate tort litigation against energy manufacturers. It is clear from the report that this litigation is not about solving climate change, but is driven solely by politics and profit.

The report’s release comes at a timely juncture, as the U.S. Supreme Court said on Friday that it would review a key issue in Baltimore’s climate change case – an issue related to federal jurisdiction that is common to all of the climate cases. Accordingly, there will likely be a pause in the climate tort litigation covered by this report, providing an opportunity for reporters and others following these cases to learn more about the litigation campaign.

As the report explains, this litigation is part of a nearly 20-year campaign by these groups, and so far every court, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to consider their substantive merits has rejected them. The report exposes the true nature and purpose of this litigation: filing a bunch of these lawsuits is nothing more than a political strategy to scapegoat energy manufacturers rather than acknowledge that fighting climate change must be a shared global challenge that requires collaboration and innovation to overcome. Indeed, these lawsuits do nothing to advance meaningful solutions and will only make the energy American families and business use every day more expensive.

Nevertheless, private attorneys and other climate litigation campaign activists have been traveling to municipalities and states, offering their services on a contingency fee basis—effectively “selling” these lawsuits.

“Although private plaintiffs’ attorneys have tried to shop these lawsuits from Florida to California, the courts have continued to appreciate that this kind of litigation will not solve climate change, nor are the courts the appropriate venue for creating policies to address a pressing global issue,” said Phil Goldberg, special counsel for the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project. “This report is a helpful tool in understanding the political interests that influence climate lawsuits as well as the flawed legal arguments the plaintiffs are using in court.”

The report is divided into six chapters:

  • In the first chapter, MAP introduces the key players in the climate tort 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.
  • Chapter Two takes a close look at the groups and individuals funding, coordinating and supporting this litigation campaign.
  • Chapter Three examines the “highly coordinated” organizations, public relations firms and “media outlets” that “iterate the same talking points” to amplify the climate litigation campaign.
  • Chapter Four reveals how lawyers have been actively selling baseless litigation over climate change, telling local governments that they and their funders will pay for the litigation in its entirety in exchange for a contingency fee if the litigation is successful. The chapter then details how two legal teams and their partisans have been pitching local governments.
  • In Chapter Five, MAP explains the private funding models, namely foundation money and contingency fee arrangements, behind today’s government climate lawsuits. The chapter explains how these funding sources can distort justice and create conflicts of interest between the for-profit lawyers and the communities they purport to represent.
  • Chapter Six explores major contradictions upon which the climate litigation campaign is built, underscoring the fundamental weaknesses in its legal claims.

Although the report focuses on litigation targeting energy manufacturers, its explanation of public nuisance theory is helpful in understanding a concerning trend in the United States of punishing manufacturers for engaging in lawful behavior and for creating the products that consumers need. 

The full report can be accessed online.

-MAP-

The Manufacturers’ Accountability Project (MAP) will set the record straight and highlight the concerted, coordinated campaign being waged by plaintiffs’ lawyers, public officials, deep-pocketed foundations and other activists who have sought to undermine and weaken manufacturers in the United States. This campaign will pull back the curtain to expose these efforts and to hold key actors accountable in order to protect our members and American manufacturing workers. The MAP is a project of the NAM’s Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action (MCLA), which serves as the leading voice of manufacturers in the nation’s courts. Visit us at mfgaccountabilityproject.org.