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A seismic win went almost unnoticed amidst the Tuckerstrom
High court lets cities and states sue Exxon et al
All eyes were on former FoxNews angerman Tucker Carlson yesterday, as his owners pushed him from the nest. They offered the tersest of statements and no explanation, but coming on the heels of the giant settlement in the Dominion voting systems case, it seems plausible that the Murdochs had decided he was a liability, not an asset. A $787 million settlement can change your outlook.
But something else happened yesterday too, with a price tag that may eventually dwarf that settlement, and with even larger potential implications for the future of the planet. The Supreme Court, also tersely, declined to grant cert in a case brought by oil companies desperately trying to hold off state court trials for their climate crimes.
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To make a long story short: Eight years ago, journalists—led by Inside Climate News and the LA Times—began publishing stories proving that the big oil companies knew all there was to know about the dangers of global warming back in the 1980s. Among other consequences, this helped convince the legal departments of a number of cities and states to launch lawsuits against the oil giants, on the grounds that they’d done great and knowing damage to the taxpayers of these jurisdictions, who were having to clean up after the endless storms, fires, and floods.
This freaked out the industry, because it could see one possible future: a series of judgments large enough to bring it, like the tobacco industry, to its knees, forced to make some kind of general settlement just to stay in business. (This would be karmic payback of a high order, since Big Oil had hired pr veterans from the cigarette companies to help build out their climate denial campaigns).
And so they they’ve hit back on every possible front, from apparently launching a massive hacking campaign to surveil their opponents to employing their high-end legal talent in an effort to thwart those lawsuits or, barring that, to move them to federal court, figuring that (thanks in part to their longtime support of the GOP politicians who have filled the judiciary with their partisans) they’d never face real justice there.
But the Supreme Court yesterday refused to let them do that—the longstanding precedents giving state and local courts rights to hear cases like this about companies that do business in their jurisdictions were too high to overcome, even for this Court. And so the cases—in Baltimore, in Colorado, in a dozen other jurisdictions around the country—may now proceed.
“This was the right decision, and it is time to prepare for trial,” Sara Gross, who heads the Affirmative Litigation Division in Baltimore’s Law Department, told the Maryland Daily Record. “Since we filed this case nearly five years ago, the climate crisis has worsened, the costs to Baltimore taxpayers are skyrocketing, and the defendants have pocketed trillions of dollars in profits while trying to dodge accountability for their deception,” Gross said.
And here’s Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, the city manager of Boulder, Colorado, which has seen catastrophic forest fires in recent years: “There’s no doubt that climate change is very costly for local government. Taxpayer dollars are stretched to support key services, and the costs to prepare for and recover from climate disasters are too much for communities alone to bear. Today’s decision is a step toward justice. Colorado communities will have the chance to hold oil companies responsible for the hundreds in millions in damages their actions cause.”
Meanwhile, tee hee, the counsel for Chevron expressed sorrow that the ruling would complicate his client’s efforts to, um, solve global warming: “These wasteful lawsuits in state courts will do nothing to advance global climate solutions, nothing to reduce emissions, and nothing to address climate-related impacts.”
The more pertinent sorrow, of course, is that they now have to try cases in jurisdictions across the nation (and perhaps around the world). The oil companies have made huge profits off Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but even that kind of money isn’t enough to begin to compensate for the damage that climate change has already caused, much less what it will cost in decades to come. (Check out a new Atlas of Climate Disasters that reads like a handbook for plaintiff’s lawyers seeking cases). Say you’re on a jury, and someone reads you a newly discovered memo from Shell dated 1989 and explaining that "‘climate-fuelled migration could swamp borders in the United States, Soviet Union, Europe, and Australia.’ “Conflict would abound,” the document said. “Civilisation could prove a fragile thing.” Perhaps you would vote for a large award.
If juries begin delivering massive damage awards in one place after another, at a certain point even the mighty oil industry may have to settle. The terms of that settlement could someday be the lever for the changes the world needs—above all, the agreement to wean the world off their products instead of trying to extend their business model indefinitely.
Cigarette smoke is no longer a ubiquitous feature of American life, in large part because of the power of the legal system. Maybe someday the smoke from fossil fuel will disappear as well, and for some of the same reasons. If so, yesterday will have turned out to be a bad day not just for gasbags, but for gas.
In other energy and climate news:
+A new report from researchers at Brown University finds that opponents of offshore wind are using “Deceit, Delay, Denial and Chicanery to Sabotage Crucial Renewable Energy.” If that sounds a bit like the fossil fuel industry at work, well:
The report emphasizes the need “to understand the … networks of mis/disinformation that are seeking to obstruct … renewable energy, as a strategy to maintain fossil fuels as a dominant energy (and profit) resource.”
Meanwhile, a definitive new study takes down one of the fossil fuel industry’s new talking points, “certified gas.” A group of companies claim to be able to monitor emissions from drilling operations closely enough to certify that the gas produced from the wells won’t add to the methane accumulating in the atmosphere. However, a seven-month investigation from Oil Change International found:
that Continuous EmissionsMonitors (CEMs) b failed to capture every significant pollution event detected with Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) cameras. Our observations suggest that the company is misrepresenting the capabilities of its technology – a concern echoed in the testimony we gathered from several industry experts – and the underlying data behind certified gas.
And a fascinating investigation from Inside Climate News shows that lobbyists for the “clean energy” industry are not above dirty politics, allying themselves with the gas industry in search of “permitting reform” that would benefit them both. Environmentalists need to be aware that, say, the wind industry may not really care if the planet overheats as long as they get to build windmills.
“There are different ways to do clean energy policy, and [the American Clean Power Association], based on who it is—who its dues-paying members are—does just as you would expect,” says David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a nonprofit watchdog organization. “ACP supports policies that are pro-clean energy in a way that is maximally financially beneficial toward large monopoly utility companies.”
+Lots of corporate annual general meetings underway these next few weeks, so here’s a nifty tool to let you easily vote your shares
+President Biden announced a new executive order prioritizing environmental justice efforts
The Executive Order directs agencies to consider measures to address and prevent disproportionate and adverse environmental and health impacts on communities, including the cumulative impacts of pollution and other burdens like climate change. Additionally, it requires agencies to notify nearby communities in the event of a release of toxic substances from a federal facility, and to hold a public meeting to share information on resulting health risks and necessary precautions.
Here’s Dr. Beverly Wright, director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, responding to the news:
“This executive order is a promise made and a promise kept by the Biden Administration. I was a part of the team that worked on the original executive order signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Although it was an historic step in the right direction, it lacked accountability measures to ensure its efficacy. This new order strengthens the 1994 executive order by operationalizing and institutionalizing the recommendation within every level of the federal government. And to ensure accountability, each agency will report all progress made directly to the President. But, while today’s executive order is historic, much work must be done to achieve true environmental justice.”
+A fascinating account from the Wall St. Journal of industry efforts to build enough carbon sequestration equipment (much of it at public expense) to “give it license to keep operating as a driller decades into the future.” Instead of just building windmills, solar panels and batteries, it wants to
“build up to 135 such plants by 2035, depending on public incentives and demand for carbon credits. That would be more than seven times the number of CO2-removal facilities currently operating worldwide, according to the International Energy Agency. Occidental has leased more than 400 square miles from Texas to Louisiana to trap CO2 underground, and has presold carbon credits to Airbus SE, Shopify Inc. and BMO Financial Group.”
+Hemp, what is it good for? Mixing with lime to form a building material that “replaces plywood sheathing, synthetic house wrap, and spray foam insulation. In addition to providing thermal resistance (R-Value), hemplime wall and roof assemblies improve indoor air quality, buffer heat and moisture, are fire, mold, and pest resistant, inherently air-tight, and sequester carbon.” Check it out, and also this trailer for a new film on Reimagining Buildings.
+Elon Musk may never get to dusty Mars, but he’s covering large portions of Texas with dust from the launch of his super-heavy SpaceX rocket. According to the Times, a
a Port Isabel resident said that while Elon Musk’s venture had brought jobs to an economically distressed region, the brown muck covering her city was a reminder of the environmental downsides and a sign that things had gotten out of hand.
“The locals here are just being sacrificed,” she said.
“He just wanted to get this thing up in the air,” Ms. Almaguer said of Mr. Musk. “Everybody else sort of be damned.”
+Greenpeace won a major legal battle when a federal court dismissed a SLAPP suit from a Canadian logging giant—this is the one we talked about in last week’s newsletter. And it comes with the equally good news that Jamie Raskin’s cancer is in remission, which means he’ll be around to continue leading the fight against these lawsuits designed to put pesky environmentalists out of business.
+From historian of nonviolent movments Michael Nagler, a beautiful eulogy for Traute Lafrenz, the last surviving member of the White Rose resistance to Hitler.
+A truly scary early-season heatwave in Asia brought the humidity index in Thailand to 129 degrees Fahrenheit. As Rebecca Leber explained in a Vox essay, early season heatwaves are the worst because bodies are not yet acclimated:
Climate change is making a safe, slow adjustment to heat much harder by upending what we’d typically expect as seasons change. Summers are getting longer and more intense, encroaching on winter and extending long into the fall.
+In the Boston Review, David McDermott Hughes suggests that juries might “nullify” laws against climate-related vandalism in the years ahead
This oldest of democratic institutions wields the unchecked power to acquit, to set aside and unmake laws, and to ultimately render oil routes unprotectable. Juries have the power to sow anarchy far and wide. To be sure, the risks of this mode of activism are high and success is uncertain. The strategy known as jury nullification should be one of last resort. Unfortunately, the climate movement is running out of better options.
+Bats are great, and bats are in trouble. A new State of the Bats report find that
Experts now estimate that 52% of bat species in North America are at risk of populations declining severely in the next 15 years. As the scope and severity of threats increase, so does the need for collaborative research, monitoring, and public support for bat conservation. We must act now to reduce or eliminate threats.
+The creative geniuses at Britain’s Make Your Money Matter campaign have released a new ad with a couple of stars from Game of Thrones explaining the relationship between banks and the fossil fuel industry. Just watch
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