Once again, American energy companies are rightly turning the tables on a phalanx of liberals who believe the U.S. can sue its way back to a pristine pre-industrial world.
Last week, Exxon filed a petition in federal court in Texas asking that county and municipal officials in several California jurisdictions be compelled to account for using ambiguous language about the possible impact of climate change on property values in public bond offerings.
Why? Because, in a series of suits against Exxon and several other U.S. energy companies initiated last year these jurisdictions were quite certain about the effects of rising sea levels and other weather phenomena on local economies and property values.
These lawsuits allege energy companies were not being honest in what they knew about environmental impacts of fossil fuel use.
In fact, as Exxon’s petition asserts, it is these jurisdictions that are not being honest.
The City of Oakland boldly declared that in just 30 years, " . . . the '100-year flood' in the Oakland vicinity is expected to occur . . . once every 2.3 years . . . and by 2100 . . . once per week." But a discussion in a municipal bond offering says, "The City is unable to predict when seismic events, fires or other natural events, such as sea rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm, could occur, when they may occur, and, if any such events occur, whether they will have a material adverse effect on the business operations or financial condition of the City or the local economy."
The City of San Francisco uses almost identical vague phrasing in its bond offering. In tort filings, however, the city assumes, "Nearer-term risks include 0.3 to as much as 0.8 feet of additional sea level rise by 2030." The city is already planning a $500 million seawall fortification.
The suits are a shady part of the environmental left’s plan to shake down industry to pay for coastal reclamation and perhaps whatever other public works projects they envision but for which they don’t want to raise taxes.
In late 2016, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman alleged Exxon concealed what it knew about fossil fuel usage and climate. When that allegation was shown to be untrue, he tried to rally other state Attorneys General in suing the companies for overvaluing oil reserves.
Indeed, facts keep getting in the way of this legal and political assault. As far back as the 1970s Exxon acknowledged that climate change exists and that there is a link between using oil and gas and climate change. Rex Tillerson, as chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, and now as secretary of state, actually favors U.S. participation in the Paris climate change accords. In many ways, the company has been at the forefront of finding realistic, science-based responses to climate change.
Exxon’s actions are not the pattern of a company hiding the practical challenges of climate change from investors or the public, as has been alleged in lawsuits. The company has merely insisted on as much scientific accuracy as possible in establishing this link and in designing and implementing policies to address the phenomenon.
To do otherwise would be an abdication of responsibility not only to the company’s shareholders but more broadly to anyone with an interest in a functioning global economy — in other words, everyone.
When Schneiderman’s suit turned into a fishing expedition for all manner of communications between the company, research and policy groups, and conservative think tanks, Exxon, which disclosed thousands of documents Schneiderman sought, pushed back in court.
Similarly, a congressional committee sought information on what appears to be broadening and deepening conspiracy of environmental organizations, liberal public officials such as Schneiderman, and plaintiff firms, such as Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, and others behind the West Coast lawsuits.
Liberals dislike the concept of "big" when it comes to corporations and profits. They love to hate "big oil" more than most of the pantheon of bad guys they have constructed. But gigantism in government taxation, spending and regulation is, of course, another matter.
They figure an alliance of trial lawyers, environmental extremists, and ambitious politicians will tap new sources of money to advance their fantasy of living in a world where the needs of more than 7 billion people can be met with algae and windmills.
Climate and energy policy deserves serious consideration, but real discussion is being thwarted by a coordinated liberal attack on the energy industry using outlandish lawsuits by California’s governments, contradictory narratives, and a selective use of facts.
Exxon deserves praise for fighting back with facts and turning the tables on its liberal bullies and exposing their hypocrisy. Only an honest debate will yield practical responses to climate change.
Drew Johnson Drew Johnson is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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