Recently a rash of lawsuits have been filed by California municipalities targeting energy companies. The claim these lawsuits make is that these California communities face imminent adverse environmental impacts due to climate change, caused by energy producers, which will force them to spend billions on infrastructural projects to mitigate weather- and sea level-related disasters. They claim, in fact, that the magnitude of these impending natural disasters is predictable, based on scientific modeling of the effects of climate change. Thus, these energy companies should fork over vast sums to the affected communities, to compensate them for their prospective woes.
The holes in this logic are so numerous and copious that, if these lawsuits were ocean-going vessels, they would all long ago have foundered and sunk to the bottom of the Sea of Self-Delusion. Now, though, it appears that even the municipalities in question are inclined to scoff at their own predictions. How do we know this? A recent analysis of information provided by these communities in connection with their sale of municipal bonds proves that, in fact, they haven't a clue how climate change will affect them, or whether it will affect them at all. Their claims to the contrary are at best opportunistic, and at worst brazenly mendacious.
Take, for example, the City of Oakland, which in its climate change lawsuit alleges that, by 2100, the community will face a “100-year flood...once a week[!]”, a sea-level rise of 66 inches, and tens of billions of dollars in property damage. And yet in its municipal bond prospectus it offers the bland assurance that “The City is unable to predict when...impacts of climate change or flooding...could occur...and, if any such events occur, whether they will have a material adverse effect...” Quite a change in tone! The difference, of course, is that when the City of Oakland is suing energy companies, it wishes to present climate change catastrophe as a certainty. When it is reassuring potential purchasers of its bonds, however, it wishes to present the ill effects of climate change as distant and entirely speculative. Talk about disingenuous!
Likewise, San Mateo County anticipates that climate change will produce a rise in sea-level that will “inundate thousands of acres of County land...and swamp San Francisco International Airport”, but, when it comes time to hawk municipal bonds, they fall back on the same boilerplate obfuscations that amount to “Climate change? Who knows what that could do to us...” The City of San Francisco cites “an imminent threat of catastrophic storm surge flooding”, but only when the bond market isn't looking. The list goes on.
The question naturally arises: why would California municipalities waste their time with such frivolous lawsuits, based on the fantasy that energy companies are solely liable for natural disasters which so far are merely anticipated, and certainly not by all climate scientists. Why, more to the point, would these communities file such lawsuits when, thus far, the courts have shown no inclination to make energy companies pay damages related to climate change?
The answer appears to lie in a coordinated strategy of harassment and intimidation that some on the left are pursuing against energy companies. Even if the lawsuits in question fail, and most liberals must realize that they will, the goal is to embroil energy companies in years of litigation, force them to divulge potentially damaging information (whether or not it relates to climate change), and delegitimize these companies in the public eye.
The nature of this leftist strategy was recently laid bare in a court filing in Texas. It seems that a major energy company is finally fighting back against the left's nuisance lawsuits and its smears by mounting a legal effort of its own. In essence, the court filing seeks depositions and evidence from some of the most prominent figures in radical environmentalist circles that have been persecuting energy companies.
The most alarming claim in the filing is that liberals connived, at a meeting in La Jolla, California in 2012, to coordinate their efforts to exploit every possible legal avenue to bring pressure to bear on the “climate change deniers” in the energy industry. High-priced environmental lawyers like those in the Pawa Law Group would work together, often surreptitiously, with liberal politicians and Democratic Party mega-donors to attack energy companies via phony lawsuits and “abusive law enforcement tactics”, with the goal of bullying them into compliance with climate change orthodoxy. Thus the “La Jolla playbook” was born.
The filing argues that, by forming and executing this conspiracy against energy companies, leftists are essentially subverting the legal system and using it to promote a narrow and vindictive political program. As a federal judge has written, these liberals may be trying to “further their personal agendas by using the vast power of the government to silence the voices of all those who disagree with them.” By deliberately exaggerating the likelihood and severity of impending climate change catastrophes, they may also be knowingly perpetrating a fraud on the American people.
As a conservative, my fondest wish is that the battle over climate change will play out in the public arena, in the form of reasoned debate and sensibly-crafted legislation. Lawsuits are, and should be, a last resort in the quest for justice.
Nonetheless, the threat posed to American democracy (not to mention our economy) by lawsuit-happy leftists is so great that we must applaud efforts to hold them accountable. If environmental radicals are conspiring to badger those who disagree with them, then we need to know about it. We need to shine a light on their legal chicanery now, to stop them from using even worse tactics in the future.