"They’re using schools as political pawns."
This week: Big Oil uses schools as a Trojan horse, Attorneys general ask the Biden DOJ to reverse Trump-era backing of Big Oil, and court rulings for Minnesota and NYC.
Emily Sanders is editorial lead for the Center for Climate Integrity. You can catch up with her on Twitter here.
There’s been a lot of activity in the world of climate accountability lately, so this week we’re going to give you highlights on several different stories. Here goes!
New accountability effort targets the American Petroleum Institute
Two nonprofit groups, Accountable.US and the Climate Power Education Fund, recently launched a joint initiative to shine a light on the misinformation spread by the American Petroleum Institute and its member companies, executives, and allies. The campaign, called Polluters Exposed, has already turned up new dirt on Big Oil, finding that API-backed groups were behind an “unusual” letter and op-ed by five school superintendents that falsely claimed federal climate policies would hurt school funding.
Through public records requests in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska and Utah, Polluters Exposed obtained emails revealing that oil industry hacks pressured the superintendents to claim that President Biden’s pause on oil and gas leasing would shrink each state’s school budgets — and they provided the school officials with numbers and talking points from a bogus API study for their public communications.
“Not only is their claim false, but they’re basically using schools as political pawns,” Lizzy Price, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Accountable.Us, told me. “You’re using kids to push your anti-climate agenda… it’s manipulative and heartless.”
Readers may remember that API, the largest oil and gas trade association, has been sued in four states for their decades of lying to the American public about climate change. But even as API claims to want to work with the Biden administration to advance climate policy, greenwashes the environmental records of its member companies, and pledges to support an unspecified carbon tax, Polluters Exposed is showing how the trade association plots behind-the-scenes to stoke fear and prevent real action from taking place.
“The way they’re pulling strings and speaking out of both sides of their mouth here is really similar to what Big Tobacco did several decades ago,” said Price, who added that Polluters Exposed will continue tracking ways the industry is trying to influence public policy and public opinion, from ads and lobbying to political donations. “We’re going to be watching for any other evidence of foul play.”
Six AGs ask the Department of Justice to reverse its Trump-era support of Big Oil
In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, the attorney generals of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia — all of whom are suing Exxon and/or other Big Oil groups for their climate deception — asked the new Justice Department to reverse its Trump-era support of Big Oil in those cases and others. The officials pointed out that DOJ’s friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Big Oil undermine efforts to hold polluters accountable and directly contradict President Biden’s pledge to “strategically support ongoing plaintiff-driven climate litigation against polluters.”
“The urgency and importance of DOJ reversing these positions cannot be overstated,” reads the letter. “DOJ’s prior positions are misguided and contravene President Biden’s pledge to support lawsuits like the ones our states have filed [...]. Moreover, fossil fuel defendants continue to cite DOJ’s prior briefs as if they represent DOJ’s current positions.”
The letter follows other recent calls from U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island for the Garland-led DOJ to investigate oil executives and side with communities over polluters.
A court win for Minnesota, and a setback for New York City
In the latest defeat for Big Oil, a federal judge ruled that Minnesota’s lawsuit against API, ExxonMobil, and Koch Industries — which charges the oily trifecta with defrauding Minnesotans about climate change for decades — belongs in state court, where it was initially filed. That’s an important win for the people of the North Star State, who are now one step closer to having their rightful day in state court.
“This is the 11th federal court to come to the same conclusion — that climate damage and deception lawsuits filed in state court belong in state court,” Attorney General Keith Ellison said. “We are eager to prepare for trial in state court to pursue our claims on behalf of all Minnesotans.”
Big Oil has fought hard to have the fraud and damages lawsuits against them heard in federal rather than state court, even asking the U.S. Supreme Court to wade into the issue. This week, we were reminded why: New York City, the only community to file a climate liability lawsuit against oil majors in federal court, was handed a major setback as the Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower federal court ruling to dismiss the city’s lawsuit.
That’s bad news for New York City residents (like me), but as Alyssa Johl, legal director of the Center for Climate Integrity, explained to E&E News, the fact that the Big Apple’s case was filed in federal court made it an “outlier” compared to the more than 20 other “climate liability cases brought against many of the same fossil fuel companies in state court.”
“All four federal appeals courts to consider the issue have unanimously agreed that the state cases should proceed in state court, despite Big Oil's best efforts to have them removed to — and ultimately dismissed in — federal court,” Johl told E&E. “Nothing about [the Second Circuit’s] ruling changes that."
The appeals court itself agreed, noting that the reasoning in those rulings “does not conflict” with its own.
Bottom line: there is still a long road ahead in the fight to fossil fuel companies and their executives accountable for their deception. We’ll be keeping track of it all — so please help us keep folks informed by sharing EXXONKNEWS and encouraging others to sign up for the latest!
ICYMI News Roundup
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