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Leaders for Climate Accountability
A new nationwide network of state and local officials is taking the fight to hold Big Oil accountable beyond the courts.
Emily Sanders is editorial lead for the Center for Climate Integrity. You can catch up with her on Twitter here.
It’s National Consumer Protection Week, folks. And it couldn’t be a more perfect time to talk about holding corporations accountable when they put out a dangerous product and lie to consumers and the public about it for profit.
This week marked the launch of Leaders for Climate Accountability, a new nationwide coalition of public officials committed to holding corporate polluters accountable for their outsized role in creating and perpetuating the climate crisis.
We know the movement to hold Big Oil accountable for the damages they caused is going to take more than just lawsuits to succeed, and that every community faces its own unique climate damages. That’s why we at the Center for Climate Integrity helped to organize this new network of nearly 70 elected officials in 18 states — which include legislators, county commissioners, mayors and more — who want to do their part to advance and advocate for accountability at the state and local level.
“As elected officials, it’s our job to protect our constituents,” said Travis County, Texas, Commissioner Brigid Shea, one of Leaders for Climate Accountability’s founding members. “We are sick and tired of being lied to by the polluters and having our communities stuck with the cost of climate damages that the polluters knowingly caused.”
During a press conference on Tuesday, Commissioner Shea pointed to last month’s freeze and blackouts in Texas as a vivid example of how devastating it can be when local infrastructure isn’t prepared for extreme weather events that will only become more frequent because of climate change. These challenges can look radically different across the range of communities these leaders call home: record-breaking wildfires in California and Arizona, now-regular flooding in New Jersey and Rhode Island, widespread crop loss in Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin, hurricanes, flooding, and sea-level rise in North Carolina, and air pollution and extreme temperatures in cities across the country.
The inaugural members of Leaders for Climate Accountability are already proving that officials can seek accountability on behalf of their constituents in a variety of ways: In California, Representative Scott Weiner introduced the Climate Corporate Accountability Act to make all companies with more than $1 billion in gross annual revenue disclose and set up targets to reduce their emissions. In New Jersey, County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick is part of a group of bipartisan officials advocating for a statewide lawsuit to hold Big Oil accountable. Tempe City Council Member Lauren Kuby in Arizona is speaking out against attacks on the courts. And State Representative Terri-Denise Cortvriend is defending Rhode Island's lawsuit and reminding her constituents why climate accountability matters.
In Kentucky, Representative Attica Scott, the first Black woman elected to the Kentucky legislature in over 20 years, pledged to use her voice to fight for her community against corporate special interests, including protecting their right to seek justice through the courts.
“My constituents in District 41 where I serve should not be stuck paying the bill for a mess these companies made, from the costs to public health and damage to homes and increase in heat waves in our urban heat island and toxic air pollution,” she said during Tuesday’s press conference. “When this mess strikes Louisville, where I live in the predominantly Black part of the city is hit the hardest. Climate accountability is a racial justice issue.”
During a press conference on Tuesday, Chicago Alderman Matt Martin listed the many ways climate change was battering his city — from the billions of dollars it spends repairing flooding damage to lakefront erosion, extreme temperatures, increased precipitation and drastically reduced lifespans in communities of color — and suggested Chicago go further to hold Big Oil to account.
“As an attorney, I believe it’s critical that we actively explore litigation here in Chicago as well as in Illinois that will help us finally hold accountable those fossil fuel companies that are responsible for the climate crisis — it’s not our taxpayers, after all,” he said.
Leaders for Climate Accountability is just getting started, with plans to expand membership to any public official committed to these three policy principles:
Holding the fossil fuel industry accountable, because those who are most responsible for the climate crisis and its impacts should pay their fair share of its costs.
Defending local democracy and access to the courts, because communities facing ongoing and imminent harm deserve the opportunity to seek justice.
Putting constituents and their safety and security at the forefront of policy solutions, because taxpayers should not be stuck footing the entire bill for climate adaptation and resilience.
If this sounds like you (or your representative), you can sign up or nominate an official here.
These organized leaders are another crucial development in the fight for climate accountability.
The movement to hold corporate polluters accountable has come a long way since InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times broke the first #ExxonKnew stories in 2017. Journalistic and academic investigations into Big Oil’s knowledge and deception grew into lawsuits filed by over two dozen communities for that fraud and the resulting damages, and lawsuits brought the first ever Congressional hearing into the impact of the fossil fuel industry’s disinformation campaigns on civil rights and civil liberties. Now, there are even calls for the U.S. Department of Justice to take action.
The launch of Leaders for Climate Accountability signals yet another new front for this movement. Elected officials know that the climate crisis poses specific, local problems in their communities that require local solutions. They know the industry is fighting at every turn to avoid paying for their actions — and they’re ready to fight twice as hard to protect their constituents.
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