Connecticut Attorney General William Tong filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil on Monday alleging deception over climate change impacts, rehashing the same, unfounded “Exxon Knew” claims that were unsuccessfully pushed in the failed New York attorney general’s case against the company.
The state’s decision isn’t surprising, considering Connecticut was one of the original players in a coalition of state attorneys general assembled with the intent of pursuing climate lawsuits.
Since then, Connecticut has been supported by or benefitted from the same group of activists and wealthy donors including Pay Up Climate Polluters, 350.org, and the State Energy & Environment Impact Center, but faces long odds of success as noted by the Washington Post:
“Even if they remain in the states, climate lawsuits have a history of eventually losing steam. … And a month earlier, ExxonMobil prevailed over New York after the state alleged the company misled investors about how it calculated the financial risks of future climate regulations.
“… The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) fell short even with a powerful anti-fraud law called the Martin Act, which does not require prosecutors to prove intent, at its disposal. The loss has discouraged other states from using their own investor-protection laws to prosecute oil firms.” (emphasis added)
Four Years In The Making, But The Same Failed Arguments
Back in 2016, Tong’s predecessor, former Attorney General George Jespen, enlisted Connecticut to take part in former New York Attorney General’s Eric Schneiderman’s “AGs United for Clean Power” – a coalition of state attorneys general that aimed to investigate major energy companies over climate change.
Not only did Jepsen participate in the March 2016 press conference announcing the coalition, but he also discussed how it’s formation allowed for easier collaboration between attorneys general:
“I am delighted to meet with so many thoughtful leaders to strategize on ways to protect our citizens from the greatest threat we collectively face, climate change… I also appreciate the opportunity to discuss future efforts, including the merits of possible joint investigations into this important area.”
But it wasn’t just collaboration between attorneys general that was facilitated by this group. The coalition provided the opportunity for private plaintiffs’ attorneys to pitch public officials on pursuing litigation against ExxonMobil.
Following the 2016 press conference, emails revealed that the AGs were secretly briefed by Peter Frumhoff, the Director of Science and Policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Matt Pawa, now co-chair of plaintiffs’ firm Hagens Berman’s environmental law practice – both key figures in the climate litigation campaign and who helped craft the “Exxon Knew” narrative.
Pawa then followed up with Jepsen about his presentation – “What Exxon Knew – And What It Did Anyway” – presenting it in April of that year.
A Losing Record
While the coalition ultimately fell apart, following the withdrawal of several attorneys general and scrutiny over the political motivation behind its formation, the group’s demise (and even New York’s unsuccessful lawsuit) hasn’t stopped Tong.
In fact, he’s using many of the same arguments that Schneiderman ineffectively deployed nearly five years ago.
In Monday’s press conference announcing the Connecticut lawsuit, AG Tong said:
“We tried to think long and hard about what our best and most impactful contribution would be. And what we settled on was a single defendant with a very simple claim: Exxon knew, and they lied.” (emphasis added)
Apparently Tong did not get the memo that “Exxon Knew” – the theory pushed by activists and lawyers that the company knew about climate change and hid that knowledge from the public – has been completely debunked.
It was this theory that Schneiderman initially built his case against the company around, but he was forced to abandon it because the facts were not on his side.
Indeed, after his successor was told to told “to put or shut up” on the accusations, the lawsuit was revised to remove these claims and instead focus on alleged accounting fraud.
The case resulted in a resounding defeat for the New York attorney general, with State Supreme Court Justice Barry Ostrager calling the lawsuit “hyperbolic” and “without merit.”
The only other two climate lawsuits that have been decided on their merits were filed by San Francisco and Oakland and then New York City, both of which failed.
Connecticut Has Benefitted From The National Lawfare Campaign
The Connecticut lawsuit isn’t a standalone effort, but part of a larger national campaign supported and funded by activist and wealthy donors to pursue climate litigation against energy companies.
Tong is still pursuing the “Exxon Knew” angle that’s been developed by this campaign despite its previous losses and thinks his lawsuit is the strongest in the nation because Connecticut’s Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act doesn’t have a statute of limitations, allowing him to recall ExxonMobil documents from decades ago – even though the company already turned over 3 million documents as part of the New York attorney general’s failed investigation.
It’s another potential connection to the broader climate campaign in that Tong could be using the lawsuit for a fishing expedition in the form of additional discovery.
Just this morning, Bloomberg Government published a story that quoted Richard Wiles, the executive director of the activist group Center for Climate Integrity, saying:
“Targeting API also gives plaintiffs an opportunity to recover useful records from the group’s archives that could contribute to more liability claims,’ Center for Climate Integrity executive director Richard Wiles said. ‘The documents that they might turn over could lead you many places that the individual companies’ documents might not,’ he said.”
Furthermore, in addition to being an original member of Schneiderman’s “AGs United for Clean Power,” Connecticut employs Special Assistant Attorneys Generals from the Michael Bloomberg-funded State Energy and Environment Impact Center at the NYU Law School – one of 10 states acknowledged by SEEIC to participate in the program.
This program places Fellows focused on advancing environmental and climate litigation efforts into state attorneys general offices and pays for their salaries – essentially making them state officials for hire:
“The opportunity to potentially hire an NYU Fellow is open to all state attorneys general who demonstrate a need and commitment to defending environmental values and advancing progressive clean energy, climate change, and environmental legal positions.”
Unsurprisingly, this arrangement has attracted intense criticism for allowing wealthy private donors to use taxpayer-funded offices to carry out their environmental agenda.
Connecticut was also mentioned in the Pay Up Climate Polluters report, “Climate Costs 2040,” which seems to be a target list of cities to carry out potential litigation, as recent plaintiffs Hoboken, N.J. and Charleston, S.C. were also featured.
Pay Up Climate Polluters is a campaign that promotes climate litigation that is sponsored by the Center for Climate Integrity, which in turn is a project of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD), which, ironically enough, is paying for the outside counsel in Hoboken’s lawsuit.
IGSD also receives money from a network of Rockefeller groups, which with the help of wealthy donors and activists, have manufactured the entire climate litigation campaign.
Tong even filed an amicus brief in support of the climate lawsuit filed by San Francisco and Oakland.
During his press conference, Tong even thanked 350.org and The Sunrise Movement, two more Rockefeller-supported groups that support and actively promote climate litigation.
The lawsuit filed by the Connecticut attorney general is just the latest case to emerge in the broader, national campaign being pushed by weather donors and activist groups.
But while a new lawsuit generates new headlines, it does nothing to change the fact that it’s based on another rehashing of the debunked “Exxon Knew” theory that failed in New York and will do nothing to address climate change.
Read more at EID Climate
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