As stewards of a multi-sector economy that extends far beyond the state’s sunny beaches, Florida’s elected officials have unique opportunities to lead the nation in adopting strategies to create jobs and avoiding moves that needlessly antagonize businesses.
A stark example of what to avoid was recently on display with an environmental advocacy group’s petition for the Fort Lauderdale City Commission to be part of strategy to bring lawsuits against manufacturers in the energy sector over hypothetical impacts of climate change.
Starting in 2017, officials in San Francisco and other California municipalities, New York City, Colorado, Rhode Island and other states have gone to court seeking possibly hundreds of billions of dollars from energy companies whom they wrongly allege are responsible for the rise in sea levels and wildfires associated with climate change.
The suits have been encouraged by trial lawyers working with environmental activists. Because they are working on a contingency basis, it is costing these cities and states nothing. Some elected officials were likely approached precisely because it could boost their progressive environmental credentials. If one of these cases were to succeed, the trial lawyers would rake in tens of millions of dollars.
Several Republican state attorneys general have recently welcomed special assistant attorneys general to work in their offices funded by a conservative group with the explicit agreement to investigate and prosecute organizations that oppose their policy goals.
Give it a minute and a few tweets. Cue the outrage. Ethicists and lawyers fill the airwaves explaining why it is highly unethical and if not illegal, certainly has a serious optics problem.
While the opening line is (thankfully) not true, it is unfortunately exactly what is being done to push a climate-change agenda through the attorneys general offices in the states.
In fact, the effort was announced to great fanfare; The Washington Post reported, “NYU School of Law will launch a new center, financed by Bloomberg Philanthropies, aimed at helping state attorneys general fight any federal moves to roll back renewable energy, environmental protections and climate policies.”
That was in August 2017; a year later, its mission has apparently expanded. In October, the New York AG office announced a lawsuit against Exxon for allegedly misleading its investors. One of the attorneys that signed the case is Special Assistant Attorney General Matthew Eisenson – a lawyer paid by the NYU State Energy and Environmental Impact Center. Mr. Eisenson and his cohorts can be found in at least seven state AG offices.
Today, the sun is shining on the California economy, with unemployment at a record low. Our state is the fifth largest economy in the world with more billionaires than anywhere else in the country. State government is also doing well. Governor Brown inherited a $26 billion deficit upon entering office. Today, the state has a surplus of nearly $16 billion. This is good for businesses and good for the California families they support.
But there’s no guarantee those sunny days will last. In fact, many economists predict the dark clouds of recession in California’s future. Recessions are always particularly troubling for California because of our high reliance on wealthy taxpayers for revenue. Austerity could be on the way, as well as tough times for California businesses in a slower economy.
Another storm cloud looms on California’s horizon as well. California cities are increasingly considering filing so-called “public nuisance” lawsuits against manufacturers, alleging that manufacturers contribute to climate change and are at least partially responsible for sea level rise and wildfires. High-profile cases brought by San Francisco and Oakland have already been dismissed, as has a lawsuit brought by New York City.
Officials discussed issue of whether bond offerings belied climate claims.
The California-based law firm Sher Edling pitched the idea of a municipal lawsuit against major energy producers to top officials within the city of Miami that would seek to extract compensation from oil companies for present and future damages due to the effects of climate change, according to emails obtained through open records requests.
The new documents add to the findings previously reported by the Washington Free Beacon that showed Sher Edling selling the idea to officials in San Francisco.
Sher Edling is representing many government clients in suits such as this across the country, usually on a contingency fee basis, meaning the firm won’t be paid unless it extracts some kind of monetary settlement from the companies or win a damages judgment in court.
Privately funded litigators wield state police power.
With the courts and Trump Administration rolling back federal climate regulation, green activists have turned to the states. But there’s a troubling ethical twist: Instead of merely lobbying, activists are placing employees in Attorneys General offices in dubious private-public condominiums.
Consider a remarkable arrangement brokered by the NYU Law School’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center to fund legal services for state AGs. The group was launched in August 2017 to advance a liberal climate and energy agenda, courtesy of a $6 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, which also financed the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
In the New York case, a special interest is funding staffers who could wield state law-enforcement power to punish opponents.
A foolish and expensive law suit should be brought to a quick end.
On October 24, 2018, Barbara Underwood, the Attorney General of New York (NYAG) filed a 91 page complaint against Exxon Mobil Corporation, which in the words of the New York Times headline demonstrated that “New York Sues Exxon Mobil, Saying It Deceived Shareholders of Climate Change.” The elaboration inside the article contained allegations by the prosecutors that Exxon “essentially kept two sets of books when accounting for the effects of climate change” which makes it appear as though the NYAG’s is a cut and dried case of financial fraud for illicit corporate advantage. The asserted bottom line was that the irregularities could cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to shareholders, payable under New York states, aggressive securities law, the 1921 Martin Act, but untold reputational losses for its improper behavior.
The initial impact from reading the Times’ explosive headline is that Exxon Mobil was up to its old tricks of soft-pedaling the risks of climate change regulation in order to prop up the value of its stock. Nothing could be further from the truth, for the history is quite the opposite.
Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire and perhaps soon-to-be presidential candidate, suggested earlier this year that reluctant corporations needed to be pressed into addressing climate change.
“Employees want to work for an environmentally friendly company. And then there are the investors. … They want socially responsible investing,” the former New York City mayor and media mogul declared to National Geographic in February.
So it seems likely that Bloomberg privately cheered the news Wednesday that New York’s attorney general had filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil alleging the oil giant deceived investors over its financial risks from climate change regulations.
The suit hit ExxonMobil right in its pocketbook, which is quite the pressure point.
Actually, though, Bloomberg did a whole lot more: He literally bought his way into the case.
That’s right. He used his money to fund a prosecutor on the New York attorney general’s staff, who then worked on the lawsuit.
Several states filed an amicus brief Wednesday on behalf of oil companies as they struggle to fend off a Washington county’s effort to hold them accountable for climate change.
Attorneys general from Indiana, Colorado and Texas, among others, are pushing back against King County’s effort to target Chevron and ExxonMobil for effects related to man-made global warming. They criticized the county for using the court system instead of the legislative process to address climate change.
“To determine liability, the court would need to determine that King County has a ‘right’ to the climate-in all of its infinite variations-as it stood at some unspecified time in the past, then find not only that this idealized climate has changed, but that Defendants caused that change through ‘unreasonable’ action that deprived Plaintiff of its right to the idealized climate,” the coalition wrote in the brief.
By Lindsey de la Torre
Executive Director of the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project.
It has now been one year since public officials in San Francisco and Oakland teamed up with trial lawyers to sue manufacturers over the issue of global climate change. While the cases made headlines, they had much more trouble getting traction in the courts. So, where do manufacturers stand one year later?
In recent months, judges around the country have started putting the brakes on these lawsuits, agreeing with what manufacturers have been saying all along, that these issues are not for the courts to decide. This summer, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup rejected the public nuisance suits by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland. He stated that “the problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case” and concluded that the legislative and executive branches are better situated to address this global issue rather than the judiciary.
As a former governor and senator for Virginia and working with business people in the private sector, I have had thousands of chances to see the strength of our commonwealth’s manufacturing sector and the competition they face in other states and countries.
Today, manufacturing employs some 230,000 hardworking Virginians in well-paying jobs. The work of these men and women contributes more than $42 billion to Virginia’s economy.
So when groups outside Virginia conspire to threaten our proud manufacturing tradition and competitiveness, I say it’s time to flash caution lights. We need to be prepared to fight back. What is this threat? Across America today — from Rhode Island to California and as nearby as neighboring Maryland — specialty trial lawyers and politicians are teaming up to sue manufacturers.