Americans are taking big oil to court over climate change
Despite the panicked desperation of the industry’s PR groups, the legal case against fossil fuels is gaining momentum. Juliana vs. US, in which a group of young people have sued the US for failing to take sufficient climate change action, was recently assigned a court date to argue their case. And this week, another group organized by Our Children’s Trust, ages 10 to 20, filed a suit against Florida Gov. Rick Scott to compel him to take climate action.
Last week, a Massachusetts court ruled against Exxon, forcing them to hand over relevant documents so that the case against them could proceed. This comes on the heels of a similar ruling by a federal judge who called Exxon’s claims of a conspiracy against them “implausible” and “a wild stretch of logic”.
And Exxon’s worry should only be growing, as a group of local Colorado governments announced their own suit against Exxon and Suncor yesterday. While it is perhaps unsurprising for Boulder, with a reputation for being liberal, to fight fossil fuels, it is relatively shocking that one of their legal counselors is David Bookbinder of the libertarian Niskanen Center.
The participation by a decidedly not-lefty organization like Niskanen further undercuts Exxon’s conspiracy theory that this whole campaign is just a partisan liberal conspiracy. While the industry will point out that Niskanen is a grantee of the Rockefeller Brothers, the group’s involvement is nonetheless an important development.
Ideologically, while they’re far from denial, Niskanen still occupies a right-leaning position. They have spoken in cautious favor of Pruitt’s red team project, for example, and a post about climate lawsuits from September of last year was cited in a piece in the National Review (and subsequently ran in the Dallas News…).
They also provide a new and unique ideological justification for the suits, in that libertarians have long held that courts, not the federal government, are best for enforcing pollution controls. The basic thinking is that someone suffering the ills of pollution can sue the polluter for damages. The court then listens to the arguments and, if necessary, determines how much the polluter should pay. This would eliminate the need for a strong centralized government to spend taxpayer money on determining acceptable levels of pollution, monitoring them, and then regulating industry to enforce compliance.
Realistically, the fact that polluters have tons of money and those impacted by the pollution have far less would mean the lopsided expenditures on legal teams would unfairly benefit polluters. So (like much of libertarianism) while it is a simple and elegant approach in theory, in practice it gives a clear advantage to those with resources, and disadvantage those with fewer resources at their disposal.
But in this case, by serving as counsel for Boulder and related municipalities, Niskanen is putting its proverbial money where its institutional mouth is, and providing pro-bono legal expertise in opposition to Big Oil.
Traditional green groups taking on oil giants is bold, but for a center-right/libertarian group to join the fray? That’s Boulder.
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(Originally appeared at DailyKos.)