Exxon Says Cities, States Suing Oil Companies Are ‘Conspiring’ Against The Industry

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Tim Pearce Energy Reporter
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Exxon Mobil Corp. is fighting back against a group of people and organizations the company says are launching a coordinated attack against the fossil fuel industry, Bloomberg reports.

Exxon has threatened or filed lawsuits and demanded sworn depositions from about 30 public officials, environmental groups and lawyers. The coalition attacking fossil fuels is following a strategy devised six years ago at a meeting of more than 20 people in La Jolla, Calif., the company says.

“It’s an aggressive move,” Fordham University School of Law Professor Howard Erichson told Bloomberg. “Does Exxon really need these depositions or is Exxon seeking the depositions to harass mayors and city attorneys into dropping their lawsuits?”

The attendees at the California meeting “conspired” to create “The La Jolla playbook,” a coordinated legal and public relations campaign against fossil fuel companies, Exxon says.

“It’s a coming together of plaintiffs’ lawyers who have a profit motive and a liability theory, environmental activists who have a political agenda and politicians who are looking to make a name for themselves with this issue,” National Association of Manufacturers General Counsel Linda Kelly told Bloomberg

The suits filed against fossil fuel companies could have a drastic impact on industry and how environmental impacts are measured and compensated. Eight cities in California, New York City, and in Boulder, Colo., along with other municipalities and environmental groups have filed or threatened to file lawsuits against energy companies.

The suits seek to hold energy companies accountable for damages from severe weather, such as hurricanes, for as much as the companies’ emissions have contributed to global warming. The coastal cities also want energy companies to create a fund that subsidizes or pays for infrastructure upgrades to protect the cities against future storms and rising seas.

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“These suits sound pretty crazy to me given that the city will have to establish that climate change is real, the industry caused the problem and the city can now solve it,” Mountain States Legal Foundation President William Perry Kendley told the Legal NewsLine. “They have an incredible proof problem that I think is unattainable.”

Exxon disputes the reasoning and motivations laid out in the suits against them, and a number of missteps by the litigants seem to support Exxon’s claims. In a recent interview, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, said his city’s lawsuit and a recent push to divest from the oil and gas industry was to “help bring the death knell” to fossil fuels.

Exxon Mobil has filed a countersuit against several municipalities in California over their opportunistic stances on the threat climate change poses. Lawsuits against Exxon paint a dire picture of California’s future as climate change worsens. At a general obligation bond offering in 2017, however, San Francisco, one of the cities suing the oil industry, claimed officials are “unable to predict whether sea-level or rise or other impacts of climate change … will occur.”

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