by Chris White
A Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group is launching an online archive giving the public a sneak-peek at how state attorneys general and activists conspired to engage in climate litigation against energy companies.
ClimateLitigationWatch will publish documents involving court cases against the energy industry. The group’s website also offers the first searchable database of records showing activists and politicians working hand-in-glove on litigation aimed at throttling oil producers.
The project, which the Government Accountability & Oversight (GAO) kick-started, will also release profiles of the people involved in the litigation, along with trading cards detailing their role in current cases. AGs Maura Healey of Massachusetts and Eric Schneiderman of News York will almost certainly be included in the profiles — both of whom are at the center of the lawsuits.
Schneiderman’s decision to resign Monday following reports he physically abused four women could diminish New York’s involvement in the cases. His successor could potentially continue where Schneiderman left off or lead the probes into a different direction.
“We’re not going to get into the science debate and other arguments. We’ll just show the public the documents, so you can decide,” Christopher Horner, one of the key figures spearheading the ClimateLitigationWatch project, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. He has filed several public records requests for information relating to Schneiderman and Healey since the Exxon probe began in 2016.
“Let people see what this campaign looks like. There is a constantly shifting narrative. This site lays out the progression — the players and their roles to put all of that into perspective,” Horner said, referring to the constantly changing nature of the investigations.
Schneiderman’s case against Exxon was initially based on claims that Exxon downplayed the severity of global warming to the public and investors, but it has since shifted to arguing the oil company duped investors about the proxy costs of oil production.
One of the most recent changes prompted The Washington Post to report June 5 that the “New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has gotten very far away from where he started in his office’s investigation into ExxonMobil.”
Schneiderman’s initial claims, which suggest Exxon had been hiding information about global warming for decades, were unlikely to bear much fruit in a court of law, legal analysts suggested in 2017.
Merritt Fox, a professor of law at Columbia Law School, for instance, noted in 2016 it’s inappropriate to use laws such as the Martin Act to target the company for potential fraud.
The law requires the likelihood a reasonable investor would consider the omitted important information and decided “not to vote or buy, sell, or hold, and that it has to significantly alter a total mix of information available to this reasonable man or reasonable investor,” Fox told a Columbia Law School panel in 2016.
The launch of the site comes as cities have taken up similar climate crusades. San Francisco and Oakland opened a lawsuit asserting five oil companies, including Exxon and Chevron, should pay huge sums of money for contributing to man-made global warming.
A ruling against oil companies could not only have tremendous consequences for the U.S. legal system but could also mean a sizable payday for the class action firms representing cities suing over global warming.
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,” San Francisco’s lawsuit suggested.
Attorneys representing the cities stand to earn a huge payday if their litigation is successful. Class action firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is handling lawsuits for San Francisco, Oakland and New York City, on a contingency fee basis. Cities pay law firms no upfront cost in exchange for a percentage of any winnings or settlement.
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