It would be strange to think that a conspiracy is needed to pierce the public reputation of fossil fuel companies, but here is the argument put forward by the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), one of the industry’s leading lobbying organizations.
“In a very coordinated move,” the IPAA states on its website, “nearly 30 scientists, government officials and third-party organizations have recently joined the fledgling climate litigation campaign.” The IPAA labeled it “free for all” and cited an industry bulletin calling the campaign “a carefully orchestrated effort by local governments in California and elsewhere to use state legislation to collect damages.” of companies producing and marketing fossil fuels “.
If you think this sounds like a Goliath pretending to be a David, you’re right. The IPAA litigation campaign is a collection of lawsuits filed in 2017 by the California counties of San Mateo, Imperial Beach, Marin and Santa Cruz, and the cities of Richmond, Oakland and San Francisco, among other jurisdictions, against more of 20 oil and gas companies.
The plaintiffs claim that the companies freely promoted the use of their products even though they were aware of the effect of the products on global warming, information that the industry allegedly suppressed for years. Municipalities are calling for companies to be forced to help pay for the damage caused by climate change, including drought, wildfires, rising sea levels and extremes of heat and rainfall. Since the filing of the cases in California, Rhode Island, King County of Washington (i.e., Seattle), Baltimore, and New York have filed similar lawsuits.
Oil companies managed to take state lawsuits to a federal court, where they hope to have less liability under the law. Plaintiffs’ argument that the cases again belong to a state court is heard by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
What makes the industry vibrate right now is a bunch of eight court friends, either friend, writs filed all on January 29, 2019, before the appellate court that supported the transfer to the state court. Among other parts, the writs were filed by the California Assn. of Counties, the Natural Resources Defense Council, a group of six prominent critics of oil companies and the National League of Cities.
To the industry, this looks like a cabal. In a blog post, the IPAA found something sinister in “the fact that all eight writs were filed within the few hours of January on a random January afternoon (i.e., there was no deadline set by the courts) “. Not only did this “reason enough to suspect that there is a certain level of coordination” occur, notes the blog post, but it “logged on to the friend the reports were many of the activists and politicians who have played a key role in the wider campaign to overthrow the oil and natural gas industry for years. “
A couple of points are relevant here. First, there was a deadline set by the court to file the writs: January 29, the day they were filed. The court’s procedural schedule specifies this friend writs must be filed no later than seven days after the main writ of the party they support. The California applicants they submitted their writ on January 22, seven days earlier. Both for “coordination.”
Second, why should it be so strange for supporters of cities and counties to extract themselves from the community of critics with fossil fuels? Who else?
Let’s look at some of the other points in the industry. Among the main targets of his impetus are Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran of the Department of History of Science at Harvard University, who presented one of the friend briefs, along with four other scholars interested in the science of climate change.
Oreskes and Supran were the authors of a 2017 study detailing the industry’s determined effort over decades to suppress scientific evidence of global warming caused by burning fossil fuels, despite warnings from its own researchers scientists that the phenomenon was genuine, dangerous and accelerating.
We reported here from his study, which focused on Exxon Mobil. They compared hundreds of Exxon Mobil internal reports and peer-reviewed research work with their advertising, especially paid “ads” that the company placed in the publications section. New York News from 1972 to 2001. The authors concluded that Exxon Mobil had systematically “deceived the non-scientific public about climate sciences.”
The IPAA blog post claims that the Oreskes-Supran study has been discredited, but it is not. His statistical method was questioned by another researcher, who was paid by Exxon Mobil. But the core of his findings was not statistical, but empirical. They compared the company’s internal documents to the advertising campaign and found them very divergent.
Oreskes, in an email, labeled the so-called debunking as “the kind of expert in contract contracts” involved in the tobacco industry when it fought medical science because of the dangers of smoking. This is a topic he knows, as he has dealt with it in the 2010 book “Merchants of Doubt,” co-written with Erik M. Conway.
It is not surprising that the oil industry is not worried about the “incipient climate litigation campaign.” Plaintiffs seek to use state laws to blame fossil fuel companies in ways that cannot be achieved under federal environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act.
In fact, federal law gives states the primary responsibility for tackling air pollution, according to Victor Sher, the San Francisco attorney who represents counties and cities. “Cases involving false and misleading marketing, excessive product promotion, campaigns to deceive the public, are traditional issues of state police power that the Clean Air Act does not address at all.”
Municipalities also hope to take advantage of California’s “public nuisance” doctrine, which argues that the company may be liable for damage caused by its products, even if its use was a common practice at the time.
There is no doubt that cities and counties are facing a long and arduous road to tackling the oil industry with the responsibility of climate change and the expense of addressing its impacts. The demand for lead paint lasted 17 years before the verdict became final.
But there is also no doubt that the industry did its best to hide what it knew about the prospects of global warming and the role of its products. The latest deceptive attack on his critics shows, if anything, that he has not yet learned to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
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