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Before You Sue: Key Considerations for Communities Serious About Fighting Climate Change

Climate change is a serious problem requiring an all-in solution. It is too large for any one industry, state or country to solve on its own. Addressing this shared challenge requires collaboration and innovation. The manufacturing community is committed to developing the technologies that can allow us to source and use energy in new and more efficient ways to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Even still, there are going to be disagreements over climate and energy policy, and frustration over modernizing infrastructures to mitigate climate impacts. Rather than work toward effective solutions, though, some groups have developed a litigation strategy for blaming climate change on the companies that sell us the energy that turns on our lights, fuels our cars, powers our workplaces and produces goods. In some circles, scapegoating energy companies may make for good politics, but this litigation campaign will not meaningfully deal with climate change—globally or locally.

The National Association of Manufacturers created the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project to engage in the dialogue over this litigation campaign. The manufacturing community is deeply concerned about these lawsuits. MAP encourages public officials to work with manufacturers on policies and technologies that actually reduce emissions and mitigate climate impacts. Here are a few things to consider about this litigation campaign:

  • Courts have repeatedly ruled that energy manufacturers are not legally liable for causing climate change.
    • There is no legal basis for blaming energy manufacturers for climate change. For 20 years, these lawsuits have been packaged in various forms—under state and federal law, against manufacturers and users of energy, and for damages and injunctive relief. They have all failed.
    • The U.S. Supreme Court has already weighed in, dismissing a climate claim in American Electric Power v. Connecticut and cautioning against the litigation. The Court stressed that to adjudicate these claims, courts would end up deciding climate public policy, which cannot be done “by judicial decree.” Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency are “better equipped to do the job.”
    • Several courts have looked into the allegations in today’s litigation. Most prominently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed New York City’s case, stating even if you take the allegations as true, no entities, including energy companies, are legally liable for global climate change.
  • This litigation campaign will not advance climate change solutions.
    • For elected officials who want to fight climate change, this litigation is not the answer. The lawsuits do not create more efficient energy sources, reduce emissions or capture carbon. Only cooperation and innovation can do these critical things.
  • What this litigation campaign is designed to do is raise the price of energy for American families and businesses.
    • The architects of the litigation said they want to use this litigation to make energy significantly more expensive. A lawyer for Colorado communities told a radio station their goal is to use the litigation to force companies to “raise the price” of their fuel so the cost of climate change will “get priced into” the electricity, gas and energy American families and businesses use every day.
    • Others have said the same. In an article laying the foundation for the litigation, one of the lawyers wrote that, while the lawsuits are packaged as holding energy companies accountable, “holding companies responsible is to hold oil consumers responsible.”
    • Balancing America’s need for affordable, reliable energy, along with climate action, is critical to America’s energy policy. If it makes sense for Americans to pay more for energy, Congress should make the decision after weighing the impacts of various options on the American people.
  • If the goal is to raise money for local projects, this litigation is the worst way to spend people’s hard-earned money.
    • Many communities say their lawsuit is about raising money for local projects to deal with the impacts of climate change, but litigation is a highly inefficient means of funding public projects. Experience has shown that these types of lawsuits siphon off too much of the public’s money to pay lawyers—up to 25% in some cases—with few controls on how the rest of the money is actually spent.
    • There are more effective, fair and immediate ways to obtain funding for climate mitigation and adaption needs. For example, there are federal and state grant programs designed to invest in local infrastructure projects specifically because of climate change. Yet, some communities, including those in these lawsuits, have not applied for these funds or even collected the funds already earmarked and available to them. Public officials who are smart stewards of their constituents’ hard-earned money should focus on these types of solutions.
  • This litigation is the antithesis of good governance. It is an effort to commandeer public offices for private political agendas.
    • This litigation has been exposed as an orchestrated political campaign by a handful of foundations seeking to use the clout of government litigation to advance their policy goals. They are paying lawyers and advocacy groups to develop legal theories and recruit governments to sign onto the litigation. This effort is solely lawyer and activist driven. One private group is even paying salaries of attorneys it is placing in government offices to file these lawsuits—an arrangement raising serious “ethical problems” and that has been banned in some states.
  • The public does not support scapegoating energy manufacturers over global climate change.
    • In 2021, a poll conducted by Axis Research for MAP revealed only 2% of voters believe suing companies is the best way to pay for climate change damages. Municipal and state leaders should listen to their constituents—not the special interests pushing this litigation campaign.

The American people understand that climate change is a byproduct of modern society and presents a shared, global challenge. Manufacturers understand these facts too and are working to mitigate its causes and impacts. It is time to come together and focus on meaningful solutions.