This week may well mark the last hurrah for both a rumored run for the presidency by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his high-profile lawsuit against five energy producers.
Last January, New York City joined several other municipalities in filing lawsuits against major energy companies BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell, attempting to hold them solely responsible not only for damages alleged to have occurred due to climate change but for damages yet to happen. It would have been a sweet double play for de Blasio: A potentially huge damages award would backfill his fiscal mismanagement problems while making him the hero of a powerful national environmental base from which he could springboard into a 2020 quest for the White House.
Those dreams could all come to an end soon as lawyers debate over procedural matters in the next round of this baseless lawsuit. To date, none of the climate change lawsuits filed in a handful of cities have seen success. Skeptical judges across the country have mostly dismissed these lawsuits for what they are – shameless efforts to shakedown energy companies and for using the wrong venue to try to address a complex issue such as global climate change.
“We’re looking for billions to make up for what they’ve done to us,” de Blasio said, making obvious the reason for his attempted money-grab. The law firm Hagens Berman, contracted to litigate on behalf of the city, is similarly incentivized on a contingency basis. Putting that in perspective, the City of Oakland, California -- in its failed bid to sue energy producers for climate change -- agreed to pay trial lawyers from a private firm 23.5% of the entire multibillion-dollar payout, in the event they succeeded.
While the plaintiff’s financial motivation was crystal clear, the legal arguments were fatally flawed. Just eight years ago in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, the court ruled that the Clean Air Act pre-empts public nuisance torts against corporations for greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. District Court Judge John Keenan essentially agreed, dismissing the lawsuit in July and writing, “To litigate such an action for injuries from foreign greenhouse gas emissions in federal court would severely infringe upon the foreign-policy decisions that are squarely within the purview of the political branches of the U.S. Government.”
In appealing the lawsuit, the plaintiff’s trial lawyers asserted that Judge Keenan “erroneously concluded that various federal law doctrines barred the city’s claims.” A Clinton-appointed judge in San Francisco likewise tossed a nearly identical suit filed by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco, so it would be greatly surprising if the decision were to be reversed this week.
Mayor de Blasio may not be well served by his behavior outside the courtroom. For example, he actively promotes more residential development along New York’s waterfront when talking to investors, yet his lawsuit against energy companies is full of predictions of rising sea levels transforming New York City into the fabled lost city of Atlantis by the end of the century. And then there is the de Blasio who is the spokesperson for green virtue versus the politician who is chauffeured to the gym in a caravan of SUVs and who notoriously makes his way across town in a police department helicopter. Of course, there’s the big city mayor suing energy producers for allegedly causing climate change single-handedly, while his city’s official vehicles and buildings burn fossil fuels as a matter of course, prompting Judge Keenan to ask, “Does the city have clean hands?”
Perhaps it was the enormity of the would-be cash payout that made de Blasio blind to his own hypocrisy. And maybe the appeal of a strong jumpstart on the road to the White House made him insensitive to the inevitably higher rates that New York City residents would have to pay as the result of his get-rich-quick scheme, even as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s de-facto pipeline ban deprives citizens of natural gas.
While New Yorkers might have to contend with de Blasio for some time, they should be thankful to a judge who will, with any luck, put an end to this phony environmental justice lawsuit very soon. If successful, it would only serve to hurt consumers in order to benefit a greedy few. And by taking away de Blasio’s would-be “accomplishment,” he could be doing his nation a great service as well.
I for one don’t want anyone from California or New York making decisions that pertain to this nation’s energy future. There’s a reason why people and companies are fleeing those states in droves.