op-ed

STOP THE MADNESS: The Legal Shakedown Of America’s Energy Industry Is Flagrant Abuse Of The Courts

It used to be that responsible liberal politicians made at least a token effort to distance themselves from extremist environmentalists and their efforts to shutter America’s energy industry manufacturing jobs. But these times definitely have changed and fringe “green” activists funded by deep, even foreign pockets are now apparently calling the shots within the political left.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, noted for trips to the gym in the back of an SUV, recently signaled his willingness to be guided by the ultra-left, filing suit against five major oil and natural gas companies. Obviously, success would leave all major energy interests and many others next on the hook. Hizzoner is demanding that companies pay billions of dollars, alleging American energy companies are responsible for global climate change – even the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Bill McKibbon, founder of 350.org, a “Keep It In the Ground” group which advocates that no fossil fuels be extracted, refined, transported or consumed, praised De Blasio for having “declared war on the fossil fuel industry.” He should have said on you.  If New Yorkers think home heating was expensive this winter, they’re in for a cold, costly more dangerous future if Mayor De Blasio prevails.

Several California cities firmly in the far left’s control have filed similar lawsuits. San Francisco, Oakland, Imperial Beach, Marin County and San Mateo County, for example, filed separate lawsuits against major energy companies insisting that they fork over billions of dollars to set up a fund that would finance sea walls and other projects to combat rising ocean levels that haven’t actually occurred yet but might someday. In true Chicken-little fashion, Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz County have practically announced the sky is falling and are seeking damages against 29 energy companies not just for rising ocean levels but for drought and wildfire allegedly brought on by upsetting the hydrologic cycle.

ExxonMobil has fired back with legal countermeasures against some of the plaintiffs for their breathtaking hypocrisy and lack of evidence. The company notes, for example, that despite claiming it runs a 99 percent risk of a devastating flood by 2050 in its lawsuit, Marin County makes no mention of that assertion in its offering to bond investors. Similarly, San Mateo County represents to bond investors that it is “unable to predict whether sea level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm will occur,” yet in its lawsuit it is somehow able to assert that there’s a 93 percent risk of a devastating flood there by 2050. So which time if any are these cities and counties telling the truth? When filing claims of climate change catastrophe, or assuring potential bond investors all is fine in their hometowns.

And remember this has all been tried before. A group of leftwing state attorneys general led by New York’s Eric Schneiderman tried in 2015 to sue ExxonMobil for alleged wrongs associated with climate change. Others came after think tanks. Embarrassed AG’s eventually fled from their lawsuits or let them lay dormant.

The state attorney general’s effort and the municipal lawsuits are both from a playbook created at the infamous 2012 La Jolla Conference in suburban San Diego. At the meeting hosted by the left-wing Union of Concerned Scientists and paid for by the Rockefeller Foundation, seasoned environmental activists and lawyers latched onto the legal strategy of applying anti-racketeering laws that were used to win a $246 billion settlement against tobacco companies, the largest in American history. The scheme called for close coordination between sympathetic government officials and environmental group operatives who crafted everything from talking points to media strategy.

If this extreme-left faction succeeds, consumer energy prices would certainly increase, ironically disproportionately harming low-income households in California, which already suffers the nation’s highest poverty rate. An example of how California’s poor and low-income residents are already being hit by high energy prices, the state recently instituted an additional 12 cents per gallon gas tax. Also, over a year period, California ratepayers paid nearly $5 billion more than the average US ratepayer elsewhere when consuming the same amount of energy. Elsewhere you should expect spikes in hypothermia deaths like those seen in Europe. Plus, do we really think any money awarded as a result of litigation would actually go toward climate change remediation?

Politicians seeking to curry favor with an insatiable environmental movement and their donor base are attempting to feed a beast that will never be satisfied while threatening America’s energy producers, thousands of domestic manufacturers, and billions in pension plans and retirement funds that are correctly invested in American energy production. These frivolous lawsuits pursue a dangerous agenda, and represent an abuse of our legal system.

Craig Richardson is the president of the Energy & Environment Legal Institute.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.