Florida is a state humming with manufacturers, health care providers, financial firms, and entrepreneurs. Our economic climate has never been brighter.
That is why Associated Industries of Florida engages state legislators, the governor’s office and executive branch agencies, and the state’s courts in support of policies that enable business to thrive.
We’re in our 100th year of supporting the success of Florida’s businesses and we’re busier than ever. When Florida’s businesses succeed, Florida’s people succeed. It’s just that simple.
Governors trying to attract new businesses present their states as alternatives to other jurisdictions that entangle businesses in paperwork, expose them to frivolous lawsuits, or impose high taxes. At the same time, there is more to being business-friendly than reasonable taxes and fair regulations. Reliable infrastructure, an educated workforce and energy sources are also critical.
Likewise, in a state that relies on tourism and recreation, our waterways and natural habitats must be protected. Florida’s citizens have a right to clean air and water. Our business community is committed to ensuring they do, which is why in 2017 AIF opposed amending the state Constitution to make it easier for citizens to sue companies over environmental issues. We thought the proposal would not advance environmental protection but instead create an adversarial, litigious environment. Fortunately, the proposal failed.
A new year and a new governor provide a hopeful backdrop for fresh approaches for sustaining Florida’s economic growth and creating opportunities for its people but a small pack of trial lawyers would rather pit Florida communities against energy companies over climate change. They think we can sue our way around this challenge but litigation would only mire our state in counter-productive confrontations with employers when cooperation on finding solutions is needed.
In his inaugural address Gov. Ron DeSantis called on all stakeholders to join together in promoting “a virtuous cycle whereby low taxes, a reasonable regulatory climate, a sensible legal system and a healthy environment attract jobs, business and investment.” That is the right tone. It encapsulates the common-sense, balanced approach for governing that Florida’s Hispanic businesses favor.
From tourism to technology to manufacturing, the 604,000 Hispanic-owned businesses contribute more than $90 billion to Florida’s economy each year. Many of these entrepreneurs faced unique challenges in accessing capital and grapple each day with the same laws and regulations all businesses face. This is part of doing business. All we ask for are public policies that allow us to prosper while being responsive to the public interest for safety, justice, and environmental protection.
Late last year, a group of crab fishermen on the West Coast filed what is simply the latest in a series of lawsuits orchestrated by trial attorneys that target fossil fuel companies. The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association believes thirty energy manufacturers should be held responsible for delayed crabbing seasons and climate-related economic losses. Now, instead of Dungeness crabs, they — and the trial attorneys — hope to net a major payday in court.
Such lawsuits aren’t without precedent, of course. Over the past two years, local officials in states nationwide have filed so-called “public nuisance” lawsuits against fossil fuel companies, arguing they should be held financially responsible for climate-change impacts such as sea level rise. Why does this matter to Florida? In light of the state’s many coastal communities, some of the state’s officials might be tempted to file such lawsuits.
To date, these lawsuits have mostly fallen on deaf ears, with Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in June dismissing climate lawsuits filed by San Francisco and Oakland. Alsup reasoned correctly that the courtroom is a poor venue for solving a problem as vast as climate change. In July, U.S. District for the Southern District of New York Judge John Keenan employed the same rationale in dismissing a public nuisance climate lawsuit lawsuit filed by New York City targeting energy manufacturers.
The reality is that, having experienced a string of losses, trial attorneys are now shopping around for new plaintiffs to push their flawed legal theory. Even if that means finding potential plaintiffs on crab boats in San Francisco Bay. Or even if it means convincing officials in Florida to become the next to play the public nuisance sweepstakes.
State attorneys general (AG) are supposed to enforce the state’s laws on behalf of the state’s citizens, but several AG’s offices are at risk of becoming conduits for advancing a privately-funded political agenda.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has given millions of dollars to a group that funds placing lawyers in state AG offices for the purpose of pursuing politically driven environmental litigation. Such activities raise serious questions about political bias and conflicts of interest within a state’s leading law enforcement agency.
This is an unsettling effort that undermines the integrity of state law enforcement.
Having served as Washington’s attorney general, I readily acknowledge that the priorities of individual state AGs vary and reflect the political perspectives of voters in their states. However, a public policy program funded with more than $6 million from Bloomberg crosses the line between law enforcement and political activism.
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.