Dempsey: What We Learned from Boulder Climate Announcement This Week and What Comes Next
After formally voting to move forward with a climate lawsuit against Colorado energy producers, representatives from the City and County of Boulder, along with the County Commissioner of San Miguel County, made their way down from the third floor of the Boulder County Courthouse to the Pearl Street Mall to make the announcement official during a small rally featuring national environmental leaders.
Speakers at the rally included the usual suspects—representatives from groups like the Sierra Club and 350.org—who have played an outsized role in perpetuating the national climate litigation campaign that has seen coastal communities in California and New York City file suit against energy producers. Also speaking were the lawyers from EarthRights International that approached Boulder about bringing the suit in the first place.
The rollout of the event brought out numerous details that had remained out of sight for the public for months. In fact, we learned from Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones that the effort had actually been a year in the making. So what else did the public learn from the coordinated rollout of the Boulder lawsuit?
First, the climate suit names just two companies: ExxonMobil and Suncor. The inclusion of ExxonMobil was expected; they are the focus of the national anti-fossil fuel campaign conceived during a conference in La Jolla, Calif. back in 2012. But their inclusion in this particular case is puzzling, since neither ExxonMobil nor its subsidiary XTO has significant production in the state of Colorado, and certainly nowhere near the town of Boulder or San Miguel County. Suncor has not been mentioned in any of the existing climate litigation in California and New York City. The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), which purports to have measured historic emissions, doesn’t even rank it in the top 50.
We also learned on Tuesday that EarthRights International (ERI) is the previously unnamed D.C. firm tapped to help with the legal work and has been involved in recruiting other local Colorado communities to join the lawsuit. The organization, as it turns out, has numerous connections to the national climate litigation crusade. The head of ERI serves on the board of the Center for International Environmental Law along with one of the leading attorneys spearheading the California and New York City cases.
Perhaps most surprising, however, was the inclusion of legal representation by the Niskanen Center. This is a Washington, D.C.-based libertarian think tank. Why would they be teaming up with Boulder behind closed doors? While they post an explanation on their website, a more likely answer may be found in the $200,000 grant by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) issued at the end of February, as reported by Western Wire. The RBF is the anti-fossil fuel foundation at the heart of the climate lawsuit campaign, paying for advocacy, journalism, and misleading academic reports that serve to stymie the fossil fuel industry’s license to operate. Turns out they may have expanded their reach to pay for lawyers to sue Colorado energy companies.
By now it should be perfectly clear that this lawsuit is the product of a national campaign funded and run by wealthy national organizations looking to find a location beyond California and New York to claim that their efforts are growing. No surprise that Boulder would be more than willing to be a home for their campaign effort.
Looking forward, it will be interesting to hear what state and local officials think about its merits. Recall that before the lawsuit was announced, Gov. Hickenlooper’s team told Western Wire that they prefer collaboration to litigation. Since the suit has been filed, they have declined to comment. The opinion of Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) will be particularly noteworthy since he has seemingly tempered his anti-oil and natural gas stance recently as he runs for governor. Another outspoken critic of the industry, State Rep. Joe Salazar, is running for Colorado’s Democratic Attorney General nomination. Will he support Boulder’s efforts?
No doubt this legal effort will take months to years to be resolved. It’s likely to be costly and will divert city resources and employees from more fruitful endeavors. As the Daily Camera reported just today, that’s of note given the budgetary shortfall they face. And it may be all for nothing—we’ve seen other cases in California be moved from state to federal court, where there is extensive precedent rejecting the plaintiffs’ legal arguments.
The National Association of Manufacturers’ Manufacturing Accountability Project called the suit “another example of trial attorneys attempting to enrich themselves at the expense of manufacturers and manufacturing workers.” They added, “These baseless lawsuits do nothing to improve the environment and are a waste of taxpayer resources. While manufacturers are working toward meaningful solutions and are reducing emissions, cities are wasting time suing them for making products Americans rely on for their everyday lives.”
Coloradans are also speaking out against this. Just today, Former Secretary of the Interior and Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton wrote an op-ed in the Denver Post criticizing the lawsuit’s “dubious” legal premise.
Now that details are finally out in the public, the more local taxpayers know that they are being used to prop up a national anti-fossil fuel campaign, the more opposition to it there will be.