Yesterday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a consumer protection/fraud and false advertising lawsuit against API, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and Koch’s Minnesota subsidiary Flint Hills Resources for “deliberately undermining the science of climate change, purposefully downplaying the role that the purchase and consumption of their products played in causing climate change and the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change, and for failing to fully inform the consumers and the public of their understanding that without swift action, it would be too late to ward off the devastation."
That’s not the only bad news for organized denial lately. Last week, a Texas court rejected ExxonMobil’s request for the California communities suing it to turn over their internal discussions, which Exxon had sought so it could prove the cities' efforts to hold the company accountable for climate damage is actually a sinister conspiracy. Though the court refused ExxonMobil’s plea, the judgment made painfully clear Exxon was right about the judges being sympathetic to the company as the ruling “la[id] bare its political leanings and its desire to rule for one side” (ExxonMobil) before “almost mournfully” ruling against them because that’s what the law requires, Columbia Law’s Michael Gerrard told InsideClimate News.
The ruling, though a loss in court for ExxonMobil, nevertheless provided grist for their efforts to shape public opinion, as evidenced by the oil industry blog Energy in Depth’s write-up of the decision that zeroed in on the court’s use of the phrase “lawfare,” a term traditionally meant to describe the use of courts for military purposes of destroying an enemy (and a relatively popular legal blog) but mostly it's used like "activist judges" -- to refer to the use of the judicial system to uphold ideals at odds with one’s own.
Former coal lobbyist and longtime industry lawyer Phil Goldberg similarly picked up on the “lawfare” line in his comments on behalf of the Manufacturing Accountability Project (MAP), so we should expect to see this as a recurring feature of what’s to come from the fossil fuel industry’s wide network of defenders.
Fortunately, Dana Drugmand recently published a great piece at DeSmog that provides an overview of the various people and organizations involved in the climate litigation countermovement, and their current push for the Supreme Court to take the case.
There are groups like MAP, set up by the National Association of Manufacturers to protect its members from climate litigation, with Phil Goldberg as a lead spokesperson. Then there’s the Chamber of Commerce’s Legal Newsline publication, which upon first glance appears as a legitimate legal news organization. But read their coverage, and bias shines through. Just like Energy in Depth, the Chamber’s John O’Brien highlighted the “lawfare” quote, and name-checked Matt Pawa, a lawyer who, in ExxonMobil’s victim-playing narrative, is the real villain secretly conspiring with AGs to silence the multi-billion dollar corporate giant. Both EiD and the Chamber’s write-up included a quote from MAP’s Phil Goldberg, and despite having space for a relatively lengthy write-up that goes into some detail to relay ExxonMobil’s position, O’Brien quoted zero voices from the parties on the winning side of the decision.
Another place where all these same points are made is Climate Litigation Watch, a website Drugman describes in DeSmog as “formed in 2018 specifically to counter the climate liability lawsuits against fossil fuel producers.” It’s one of the projects of Chris Horner, former tobacco industry lawyer, turned coal-funded climate science harasser, turned climate litigation counter-activist. The website is a project of Horner’s Government Accountability & Oversight effort, and is also closely tied to Energy Policy Advocates, which does similar work filing FOIAs and otherwise legally harassing state Attorneys General on climate issues.
Once you know these groups are all operating on the same wavelength, what looks like it could be an independent media outlet reporting on what multiple organizations appear to think is a scandal is more clearly seen as various organs of ExxonMobil’s defense working in concert to attack those seeking to hold the industry accountable. For example, see this story from February in the Chamber’s Legal Newsline, for a piece on the combined efforts to target Matt Pawa by ExxonMobil, Government Accountability & Oversight, and Energy Policy Advocates.
So what we see here is that in response to the climate litigation suits over the damages ExxonMobil and its product have caused, while it funded a network of people and organizations to perform a public relations campaigns to misinform Americans about it’s product’s climate and public health costs, there has arisen a network of people and organizations that are carrying out a public relations campaign to misinform Americans about that very litigation over such campaigns.
Even when the industry’s anti-science playbook is on trial, they can’t help but keep running it!
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