Energy

High-Powered NYU Legal Prof Says California-Climate Lawsuits Don’t Stand A Chance

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Due to downplaying global-warming effects while selling municipal bonds, California officials have almost no chance of winning their climate lawsuits, one prominent legal expert said Wednesday.

Because these San Francisco politicians made dire climate-change predictions during litigation against energy companies but not in bond offerings, they know they’re burned, according to New York University law professor Richard Epstein.

“My guess is they know they’re going to lose those lawsuits,” Epstein, who also directs NYU’s Classical Liberal Institute, told Legal Newsline. “I certainly believe they will.” If San Francisco and Oakland decide to not back out the lawsuits and instead move forward, he added, “the cross examination is going to be brutal.”

His pessimism is based primarily on reports showing the cities’ inconsistent positions on climate change. San Francisco’s lawsuit suggested the city faces “imminent risk of catastrophic storm surge flooding” — yet a 2017 general-obligation bond offering claimed officials are “unable to predict whether sea-level or rise or other impacts of climate change… will occur.”

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California, for its part, face a tough situation if the lawsuits miss their mark. Nearly 40 percent of the state’s crude oil is produced inside the Golden State — a reality that could slam officials if Exxon, Chevron and others being sued decide to pull out of California. The oil industry also contributes $66 billion of gross income for 2.7 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.

Oakland, San Francisco and San Mateo are not alone in their pursuit of Exxon and others. Quasi-activist attorneys general began suing the Texas-based company nearly two years ago, claiming the company spent decades hiding climate-change knowledge from public investors. New York and Massachusetts Attorneys General Eric Schneiderman and Maura Healey are two of the primary, Democratic law enforcers targeting Exxon.

Much of Schneiderman’s initial probe is based on reports from liberal-leaning media-outlets InsideClimate News and Columbia University — both of which claim Exxon has known the risks of global warming for decades but kept such knowledge under wraps. The probe has come under intense scrutiny, especially among analysts who raise doubts about the research behind the pursuit.

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