Texas Oil Company and California cities face off in climate change row in state Supreme Court

An oil and gas giant, the city of San Francisco, and a Massachusetts lawyer appear before the Texas Supreme Court – a case in Texas’ highest court alleges a coordinated litigation effort to force compliance with a climate change program.

ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, is suing a host of California cities and Massachusetts attorney Matthew Pawa in the state of Texas.

Exxon argues that the defendants are playing the “Big Tobacco playbook” by “using the power of law enforcement and tort litigation to suppress the speech” of ExxonMobil and other Texas companies.

the petition alleges that Pawa and other climate activists formulated the plan at a meeting in 2012. This strategy, as Exxon lays out, involves coordinating litigation against the fossil fuel company from a group of states Democrats over the company’s “climate and energy policy communications” and then launching a barrage of tort litigation against the oil and gas industry from local authorities. Governments.

Exxon’s case hinges on several issues: first, whether Texas courts are an appropriate venue for a Texas-based company to countersue other state governments for lawsuits brought against them in outside of Texas; second, the first question being answered, whether the deluge of lawsuits constitutes a coordinated effort; and third, whether that effort chills speech and violates the First Amendment rights of the companies and people it employs.

The California cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Mateo have each filed public nuisance lawsuits against Exxon and other companies like Texas-based ConocoPhillips. These lawsuits allege that oil and gas companies are misleading the public about the effects of fossil fuel use on the climate and the general public.

A centerpiece of the cities’ lawsuits is that Exxon and its fossil fuel competitors are selling a bill of goods to the public over the externalities of their product — and, as a result, the companies owe these localities billions of dollars for the efforts. attenuation.

The outcome of these cases is not yet determined. These different cases have been folded into that of San Mateo which is currently in front of the 9and Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Just like BIG TOBACCO, BIG OIL knew the truth [about climate change] long ago and peddled misinformation to defraud their customers and the American public,” a Press release Lu of the City of Oakland announcing the lawsuit.

Tort litigation is the branch of civil law that examines claims for personal injury and property damage.

The “Big Tobacco” comparison refers to tobacco companies’ counter-messages in the 1950s to the growing body of medical evidence that smoking and the use of other tobacco products cause health problems.

But in this case, those alleging malpractice are not examining the individual health implications of a personal habit – rather society’s use and reliance on most forms of thermal energy poses a threat. for future generations.

Climate activists say the use of fossil fuels is causing material damage due to rising sea levels which are swallowing up habitable land on the coasts.

On this dissimilarity, Exxon’s petition cites San Mateo County’s 2014 and 2016 climate bond proposals which stated, “The county is unable to predict whether sea level rise or other impacts of climate change or major storm flooding will occur.

This effort, according to the company, is aimed at forcing fossil fuel companies to comply with demands from climate activists to switch from thermal to renewable energy.

A amicus brief filed by the transparency organization Energy Policy Advocates states: “This Court should not prohibit the use of [Texas’] judicial system to examine the use of out-of-state courts to target Texas businesses in an organized effort to compel those businesses to support national legislative change or simply evade coordinated and vexatious multi-front litigation.

“Exxon’s request for a review is not lacking in audacity,” the cities said. petition bed. “This presents the jaw-dropping argument that California state lawsuits filed by California cities and counties under California state law should be treated as lawsuits against the State of Texas itself for specific personal jurisdiction purposes, simply because Exxon and several of its co-defendants in these California lawsuits operate in an industry that Exxon describes as “vital to the economic well-being of Texas.”

In its own briefPawa makes a similar case that the suit should be dismissed.

A frequent strategy in these civil cases is to attack the rapporteur’s position to even bring the lawsuit – a strategy that is deployed by figures and groups of all political stripes and interests. It is also an important barrier to remove, serving as a barrier to frivolous lawsuits from legally uninterested parties.

Bothn/a The District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision which sided with Exxon, decide that out-of-state parties did not have personal jurisdiction in Texas courts.

But the court further criticized the municipalities’ coordinated lawsuit front.

“The Act is an ugly tool by which to seek the environmental policy changes desired by California parties, committing the judiciary to do the job that the other two branches of government cannot or will not do in persuading their constituents that the Anthropogenic climate change (a) has been conclusively proven and (b) must be corrected by crippling the energy industry.

Various others have filed amicus briefs or letters in support of Exxon, such as Governor Greg Abbottthe Texas Oil and Gas Associationand Texans for Trial Reform.

ExxonMobil is one of many oil and gas companies that have designed quite the public display, step up their commitments investments in renewable energy – which environmentalists say does not go far enough.

The case has serious implications for cross-border litigation. California municipalities allege, in the same breath, that the harm caused by fossil fuel use extends beyond state borders and the implications of litigation and public pressure efforts do not. Exxon, meanwhile, is trying to find redress in a court whose jurisdiction typically ends 1,000 miles from the origins of the dispute.

Update: The Texas Supreme Court has denied Exxon’s motion to review the case.

Bernard P. Love