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Not Again! Climate Litigation Sets Its Sights On Maine

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Activist groups involved in promoting and funding climate litigation have arrived in Maine and are discussing the possibility of local leaders filing a lawsuit against energy companies for their production, marketing, sale, and public statements around fossil fuels.

In October, the Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Climate Integrity hosted a public webinar on municipal climate litigation that included local legal and activist leaders.

Coupled with CCI’s recent poll on climate accountability conducted in Maine, its spending on congressional ads about climate liability in the state, and a similar event held in Maine in August, this latest online panel discussion is the clearest sign yet that the national climate litigation campaign has set its sights on Maine as a prospective plaintiff.

UCS and CCI are major players in the coordinated effort that has helped to facilitate the filing of a number of lawsuits against oil and natural gas companies and trade associations in states and municipalities across the country.

In fact, CCI’s parent organization, the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, is funding the initial legal fees for Hoboken’s outside counsel in the city’s climate lawsuit filed in September.

Thus far, however, the climate litigation campaign has been a dud. All the cases that have been heard on their merits – Oakland and San Francisco, New York City, and New York State – have been defeated in court, although the California municipalities and NYC have appealed those decisions and are in various stages of that process.

Despite their lack of success, national activist groups, namely CCI, continue to recruit local leaders in municipalities and states across the country to bring more climate cases against energy companies, driven by their politically-motivated efforts to “delegitimize” the fossil fuel industry.

Meanwhile, the Maine cities of Portland and South Portland recently published a climate resiliency plan – a similar move that Boulder, Colo., used before introducing its climate lawsuit.

Activists Hosting Webinar Have Deep Ties to Climate Litigation

Activist interest around Maine filing a climate lawsuit has been building for much of 2020, and the October webinar demonstrates that this effort has shifted into high gear.

Alongside UCS and CCI, the webinar was also co-hosted by the Maine Conservation Alliance and the Conservation Law Foundation.

Titled, “Maine’s Climate Adaption Costs – Holding Fossil Fuel Corporations Accountable,” much of the event was devoted to discussing the current state of the climate litigation campaign, how Maine fits into that and, in the case of CCI and UCS, how the organizations work to support it.

Among the panelists were two representatives from CCI, Megan Matthews, a research associate with the group, and Corey Riday-White, a staff attorney.

Matthews reviewed the history of climate change in a presentation that echoed the debunked “Exxon Knew” theory – a core pillar of the climate litigation campaign – which alleges ExxonMobil and other energy companies misled the public on climate change.

This is the second presentation that Matthews has given on the subject in Maine, previously sharing the same information at an August “Lunch & Learn” hosted by the Maine Conservation Alliance.

Following Matthews’ presentation, CCI staff attorney Corey Riday-White discussed many of the ongoing climate lawsuits.

Notably, at the start of his presentation, Riday-White stated that neither he nor CCI is litigating any of the cases, just that they are “supportive of the plaintiffs”:

“So, at the outset I want to make clear that neither myself nor CCI is actually litigating any of these cases, while we are supportive of the plaintiffs in these cases we do not actually represent or speak for any of them.”

While it might technically be true – the plaintiffs are not represented by CCI – it omits a massive conflict of interest: CCI’s parent organization, the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, is funding the initial legal fees for Hoboken’s outside counsel in its climate lawsuit filed in September.

Not only that, CCI and Pay Up Climate Polluters, a project of IGSD that is directed by CCI, campaigned hard in New Jersey before Hoboken introduced its climate lawsuit.

In March, CCI and UCS co-hosted a panel with Monmouth University on climate liability in New Jersey that was eerily similar to the Maine event held last week.

Not only that, the Monmouth panel originally planned to include Jonathan Abady, partner with Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady – the very same law firm hired by Hoboken and paid for by IGSD to litigate the first stages on the city’s climate lawsuit.

In another similarity to the Monmouth panel, the Maine webinar included a representative from UCS – Rachel Licker, a senior climate scientist for the group.

Licker has played a key role in the climate litigation campaign by helping develop “attribution science,” which attempts to quantify a percentage of overall climate impacts on specific energy companies.

During the webinar, Licker discussed her attribution science work with UCS colleague Brenda Ekwurzel – who spoke at the Monmouth panel – and the research done by Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute.

CAI co-hosted the infamous 2012 La Jolla conference, where the legal and PR strategies for the climate litigation campaign were devised.

Heede has acknowledged that his group aims to “confront fossil fuel companies” and that his work was done with the explicit purpose of aiding climate lawsuits. EID Climate has previously reviewed how there actually isn’t much science behind attribution science.

Rounding out the Maine webinar was attorney Jamie Kilbreth with the New England law firm Drummond Woodsum.

Kilbreth sought to equate lawsuits against tobacco companies with climate litigation – a favorite comparison of activists.

While Kilbreth was the top lawyer for the State of Maine’s own tobacco litigation, comparing those cases to lawsuits against energy companies for climate change just doesn’t add up.

UCS and CCI’s Long History with the Climate Litigation Campaign

The fact that UCS and CCI hosted the Maine webinar should not be taken lightly, as these groups have played major roles in the broader climate litigation campaign for years.

For example, UCS co-hosted and helped organized the 2012 La Jolla conference and the group’s Peter Frumoff, along with plaintiffs’ attorney Matt Pawa, secretly briefed state attorneys general before the 2016 “AGs United for Clean Power” press conference where Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and then-U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker announced investigations into ExxonMobil over the company’s public statements on climate change.

More recently, CCI has been a driving force behind many of the climate lawsuits. In the summer of 2019, the group released its “High Tide Tax” report which aimed to calculate the costs of sea-level rise in various coastal cities around the country.

After publishing the report, CCI founder Richard Wiles was pressed by reporters on who funded the study, eventually admitting that CCI received support from wealthy foundations like the Rockefeller Family Fund.

This fact – and Wiles’ hesitancy to share the information – isn’t surprising, considering that Rockefeller groups have manufactured the entire climate litigation campaign.

This September, the City of Charleston, S.C. and the Connecticut Attorney General filed their own climate lawsuits, and like Hoboken, South Carolina and Connecticut are featured in CCI’s High Tide Tax study.

This indicates that the study may serve as a target list for plaintiffs in future litigation, underscoring the importance of CCI’s newfound interest in Maine.

Conclusion

If past is prologue, a climate lawsuit introduced in Maine is likely, with the October webinar acting as the strongest signal yet that UCS, CCI, and the entire climate litigation campaign has set its sights on the state.

Read more at EID Climate

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