Posts Tagged ‘oil industry’

Another step toward climate speechcrime: New York subpoenas

Months of agitation promoting a government investigation of supposedly wrongful advocacy on the issue of climate change have begun to pay off. As Holman Jenkins [paywall] notes, purportedly levelheaded Democrats and environmentalists are now jumping on the bandwagon for a probe of possible unlawful speech or non-speech by energy companies and advocacy groups they’ve backed. Perhaps the most remarkable name on that list is Hillary Clinton, who said the other day in New Hampshire, referring to Exxon, “There’s a lot of evidence that they misled people.” That’s right: Hillary Clinton, of all people, now wants to make it unlawful for those who engage in public controversy to mislead people.

The first high-profile law enforcer to bite, it seems, will be Eric Schneiderman, whose doings I’ve examined at length lately. “The New York attorney general has launched an investigation into Exxon Mobil to determine whether the country’s largest oil and gas company lied to investors about how global warming could hurt its balance sheets and also hid the risks posed by climate change from the public,” reports U.S. News. Show me the denier, as someone almost said, and I will find you the crime: “The Martin Act is a nearly empty vessel into which the AG can pour virtually any content that he wants,” as Reuters points out. More on the Martin Act here and here.

At Forbes, Daniel Fisher notes the possible origins of the legal action in an environmentalist-litigator confab in 2012 (“Climate Accountability Initiative”) in which participants speculated that getting access to the internal files of energy companies and advocacy groups could be a way to blow up the climate controversy politically. Fisher also notes that Justice Stephen Breyer, in the Nike v. Kasky case dismissed 12 years ago on other grounds, warned that it will tend to chill advocacy both truthful and otherwise by businesses if opponents can seize on disagreements on contentious public issues and run to court with complaints of consumer (or presumably securities) fraud.

Perhaps in this case chilling advocacy is the whole point. And very much related: my colleague Roger Pilon’s post last week, “Whatever Happened to the Left’s Love of Free Speech?“; Robert Samuelson (“The advocates of a probe into Exxon Mobil are essentially proposing that the company be punished for expressing its opinions.”)

WSJ on climate RICO

An editorial in this morning’s Wall Street Journal is blunt:

Advocates of climate regulation are urging the Obama Administration to investigate people who don’t share their views.

Last month George Mason Professor Jagadish Shukla and 19 others signed a letter to President Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and White House science adviser John Holdren urging punishment for climate dissenters. “One additional tool — recently proposed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse — is a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) investigation of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change,” they wrote.

In other words, they want the feds to use a law created to prosecute the mafia against lawful businesses and scientists. … [RICO] can inflict treble damages upon a defendant. Enacted to stop organized crime and specifically to prosecute individuals tied to loansharking and murder-for-hire, it was long seen as so powerful a tool that the government warned prosecutors to limit its use.

The scientists’ RICO letter was “inadvertently posted” on the website of a group almost entirely funded by taxpayers [Ian Tuttle, National Review Online; Coyote] Rob Nikolewski at has more on the letter and its aftermath, and quotes me:

Walter Olson, senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies, thinks that’s a dangerous step to take.

“This is core political persuasion,” Olson told “If this is illegal racketeering, then potentially an awful lot of things that people debate about are also illegal racketeering … It’s a dangerous power because it won’t be used even-handedly.”

Earlier coverage here, here, etc. Some possible insight into litigation strategies of climate-RICO promoters at Inside Climate News here and here.

Because only Truth has rights

Scientists’ “Letter To President Obama: Investigate Deniers Under RICO” is exactly what it sounds like [Greg Laden, ScienceBlogs] We earlier noted, as a step toward attaching legal consequences to unwanted advocacy, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-R.I.) op-ed “urg[ing] the U.S. Department of Justice to consider filing a racketeering suit against the oil and coal industries for having promoted wrongful thinking on climate change, with the activities of ‘conservative policy’ groups an apparent target of the investigation as well,” as well as Gawker’s call to “arrest climate change deniers.”

P.S. For more on the widely publicized book Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, which condemns various scientists said to be too skeptical of the factual basis for regulation, see links gathered by Judith Curry, including this Reiner Grundmann review. Yet more: “I have no idea how it affects the First Amendment” says Vermont scientist who backs probe of wrongful advocacy [Bruce Parker/Watchdog, quotes me]

“Future generations” lawsuit against fossil fuel use

When a legal action is “first of its kind,” sometimes that’s because it’s a lawyer-driven gimmick. [MSNBC via Constitution Center; ABA Journal]

P.S. As several readers point out, it’s unlikely that lawyers claiming to represent the interests of future generations of Americans will be allowed into court any time soon to challenge the continued expansion of federal government debt.

Environment roundup

Environment roundup

Sen. Whitehouse urges RICO suit against climate wrongthink

Another step toward criminalizing advocacy: writing in the Washington Post, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) urges the U.S. Department of Justice to consider filing a racketeering suit against the oil and coal industries for having promoted wrongful thinking on climate change, with the activities of “conservative policy” groups an apparent target of the investigation as well. A trial balloon, or perhaps an effort to prepare the ground for enforcement actions already afoot?

Sen. Whitehouse cites as precedent the long legal war against the tobacco industry. When the federal government took the stance that pro-tobacco advocacy could amount to a legal offense, some of us warned tobacco wouldn’t remain the only or final target. To quote what I wrote in The Rule of Lawyers:

In a drastic step, the agreement ordered the disbanding of the tobacco industry’s former voices in public debate, the Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR), with the groups’ files to be turned over to anti-tobacco forces to pick over the once-confidential memos contained therein; furthermore, the agreement attached stringent controls to any newly formed entity that the industry might form intended to influence public discussion of tobacco. In her book on tobacco politics, Up in Smoke, University of Virginia political scientist Martha Derthick writes that these provisions were the first aspect in news reports of the settlement to catch her attention. “When did the governments in the United States get the right to abolish lobbies?” she recalls wondering. “What country am I living in?” Even widely hated interest groups had routinely been allowed to maintain vigorous lobbies and air their views freely in public debate.

By the mid-2000s, calls were being heard, especially in other countries, for making denial of climate change consensus a legally punishable offense or even a “crime against humanity,” while widely known advocate James Hansen had publicly called for show trials of fossil fuel executives. Notwithstanding the tobacco precedent, it had been widely imagined that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution might deter image-conscious officials from pursuing such attacks on their adversaries’ speech. But it has not deterred Sen. Whitehouse.

Law professor Jonathan Adler, by the way, has already pointed out that Sen. Whitehouse’s op-ed “relies on a study that doesn’t show what he (it) claims.” And Sen. Whitehouse, along with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), has been investigating climate-dissent scholarship in a fishing-expedition investigation that drew a pointed rebuke from then-Cato Institute President John Allison as an “obvious attempt to chill research into and funding of public policy projects you don’t like…. you abuse your authority when you attempt to intimidate people who don’t share your political beliefs.”

P.S. Kevin Williamson notes that if the idea of criminalizing policy differences was ever something to dismiss as an unimportant fringe position, it is no longer.

Environmental roundup

  • Plaintiffs in Michigan v. EPA, now before U.S. Supreme Court, argue that cost-no-object regulation oversteps EPA’s authority [The Economist, Ilya Shapiro on Cato’s amicus brief]
  • Apex predator? Class action firm and perennial Overlawyered favorite Hagens Berman sues Sea World demanding consumer refunds over animal handling [Orlando Sentinel, San Antonio Business Journal]
  • Privately designed and operated cities can provide answers to tough growth questions [Alex Tabarrok and Shruti Rajagopolan]
  • Following pile-on of publicity and lawsuits over formaldehyde levels in flooring, Lumber Liquidators distributes free test kits to consumers, gets sued over that too [Bloomberg, related]
  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission won’t charge men who posted Facebook video of their hang-out with an apparently injured Great Horned Owl, but feds might [Lowering the Bar]
  • Urban markets often blocked from providing supply of affordable housing [Adam Hengels, Market Urbanism] “Minimum parking requirements in the planning profession are closely analogous to bloodletting in the medical profession.” [Donald Shoup via Tabarrok]
  • In Louisiana, legacy lawsuits over past oil and gas drilling roil Plaquemines Parish [WWL]

Federal judge dismisses Louisiana levee boards’ erosion suit

U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown has dismissed a “lawsuit filed in 2013 by a Louisiana flood board that sought damages — potentially in the billions of dollars — from scores of oil, gas and pipeline companies over erosion of the state’s fragile coast.” The judge ruled that federal and state laws did not provide any basis for the suit. The suit had provoked a furor in the state, with opponents of the suit arguing that political authorities in the state had authorized and indeed invited and encouraged the sorts of energy development being sued over. An appeal is expected. [Associated Press; New Orleans Advocate; earlier here, here, here, here, etc.]

Big plans foiled in New Mexico

County in New Mexico purports to ban oil/gas extraction, assign legal rights to rivers, wetlands and other natural features, declare all water a public trust, create an enforceable legal right to a “sustainable energy future,” strip corporations of various current constitutional rights, and make the whole thing self-executing against private parties. Federal court: uh, no, guys [Eugene Volokh on decision in Swepi, LP v. Mora County, striking down ordinance on various grounds including Supremacy Clause, First and Fifth Amendments.]