Climate activists suffered another drawback this afternoon in their campaign to punish energy companies for global warming, as federal judge William Alsup dismissed the claim that there was a conspiracy to suppress climate science.
Multiple individuals in the court room shared the news on social media.
“Alsup dismissing the idea that there was some sort of conspiracy amongst fossil fuel companies to suppress info on climate,” tweeted Amy Westervelt of Climate Liability News. Amy Johl, a self-described “organizer” and “strategist” who focuses on climate change, tweeted that Judge Alsup ended the hearing by declaring “there is no conspiracy among fossil fuel cos to suppress info re climate science.”
Last week EID exposed how the plaintiffs had mischaracterized evidence in their legal filings, particularly with respect to claims they attributed to the Global Climate Coalition in the 1990s. As EID pointed out, the plaintiffs cited an “internal” GCC presentation, in which the GCC allegedly claimed there were “potentially irreversible” impacts from climate change, including “significant loss of life.”
But the document was just a summary of findings from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which came from a report that was already public.
Alsup’s dismissal of the conspiracy accusation was in reference to the GCC discrepancy, pointing out that it wasn’t the GCC members who made such claims, but rather the IPCC:
I found it useful, and I think Mr. Boutrous [Chevron’s lawyer] is correct. I read that paragraph 67 the same way; that there was a conspiratorial document within the defendants about how they knew good and well that global warming was right around the corner.
And I said:
“Okay. That’s going to be a big thing. I want to see it.”
Well, it turned out it wasn’t quite that. What it was was a slide show that somebody had gone to the IPCC and was reporting on what the IPCC had reported, and that was it. Nothing more.
So they were on notice of what in IPCC said from that document, but it’s hard to say that they were secretly aware.
By that point they knew. Everybody knew everything in the IPCC. So I don’t know. I think Mr. Boutrous makes a fair point.
The dismissal of the conspiracy allegation was not an official ruling, but rather an observation made toward the end of the hearing. Nonetheless, a federal judge’s opinion on such a core component of campaigns like #ExxonKnew and the municipal climate lawsuits could prove troublesome for activists, especially as they struggle to convince more state officials to launch investigations based on allegations of conspiracy and fraud.
The judge’s statements also suggest that the courts are taking a close look at what the plaintiffs alleged in their legal filings – closer, perhaps, than the plaintiffs and their activist allies would like.
As EID has also uncovered, New York City’s climate lawsuit against oil and natural gas companies is asking for damages related to the city’s investments to address climate change. But some of those investments include the use of the same fuels that the companies produce. The city even acknowledges that natural gas reduces emissions.
Other municipalities suing energy companies over climate change have come under scrutiny for potentially misleading their investors, arguing that the risks of climate change are “uncertain” even as they seek to extract billions of dollars from energy companies based on those same risks.
*This post was updated on 3/27/18 to include an excerpt from the court transcript.