That was fast.
Just days after the City of Boulder, Boulder County, and San Miguel County (encompassing Telluride, Colo.) announced a joint climate lawsuit against Colorado oil and gas companies, leading voices from across Colorado have already weighed in opposing the suit.
For the past several months, Energy in Depth-Mountain States has been warning about the behind-closed-doors efforts by Boulder to bring the climate lawsuit. Last Tuesday, EID was on location on the Pearl Street Mall for the rollout of the suit. When the Boulder Daily Camera first reported on Boulder officials finally making the suit public, EID was quick to point out the lack of support for the Boulder-led effort, telling the Camera, “It’s telling they were only able to get one other county in the state to go along with this scheme brought by D.C. trial lawyers.”
In fact, support for the climate lawsuit has been quiet, other than the national anti-fossil fuel groups and the plaintiffs’ attorneys that pushed for the lawsuit in the first place. Meanwhile the response pushing back has been quick and strong.
The editorial board of the Denver Post, Colorado’s largest newspaper, emphasized the implications these lawsuits hold for both the city and its citizens:
“Without fossil fuels, transportation would stagger to a halt, agricultural productivity would plummet, millions would suffer from cold, heat and hunger, and untold legions would suffer premature death.
“That’s why any comparison between fossil fuel companies and the tobacco industry, whose product is a health disaster with no redeeming economic value, is so wide of the mark…
“Such lawsuits are especially unfortunate in a state like Colorado where tens of thousands of people work in a vibrant energy industry and understandably do not consider themselves engaged in a malignant occupation. And yet when the companies they work for are stigmatized and even demonized for engaging in commerce still critical to our economy, by extension so are they.”
Up next, former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton penned a straightforward “what you need to know” kind of op-ed every resident of Boulder should likely want to give a look-see titled “Boulder can do better.” Norton, who sued “Big Tobacco” as Colorado’s Attorney General in the late ‘90’s, explained that “about the only thing that ‘Big Tobacco’ and ‘Big Oil’ have in common, however, are the deep pockets of the defendants.” Norton added:
“Their lawsuit is based on a dubious legal premise and is not a productive way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions…
“The world reached its current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases because of countless large and small decisions by governments, companies in different industries, and consumers. Is your neighborhood gas station franchise responsible for emissions? Are utilities to blame because they moved away from nuclear energy? Car makers for marketing non-electric vehicles? What is our own individual liability, since annual greenhouse gas emissions amount to almost 20 tons per person? Yet Boulder is suing only ExxonMobil and Suncor, and asking them to pay triple the amount of any climate change damage Boulder suffered.
“A second difference is that tobacco use is not an integral part of society in the same way as energy, so it is harder to argue energy production is an unreasonable activity or a nuisance. With sufficient motivation, Americans can put out that last cigarette, but no amount of motivation can remove every need to heat our homes, put the kids on a school bus, rush the injured to a hospital, or fly to the next business meeting. In Boulder’s world view, Suncor and ExxonMobil should have stopped producing and marketing their products when climate change concerns surfaced in the 1980’s. But instead, oil and gas companies created jobs, enriched Americans and strengthened our national security.”
Greg Walcher, who previously led the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, published his criticism of the lawsuits in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Walcher drills down on one of the sharpest critiques against the municipalities suing the energy industry:
“There is a problem with this accusation, though, which cities are just realizing. Speculation about the climate works both ways. Oil companies depend upon investors investing. But so do local governments. Most, including Boulder, depend on municipal bonds to fund infrastructure, including highways, bridges, and schools. Municipal bonds attract investors because they are tax-exempt, and fairly safe. Investors consider risks like fluctuating prices, reliability of city revenue, or inflation eroding the value. But what about the risk that a city might not even exist in a few years, the victim of catastrophic rises in sea level due to global warming? Many cities claim to face such an ominous future, yet no city warns bond investors about it.”
On the one hand, the cities are downplaying the risks of climate change to attract the investors, while on the other-hand suing “Big Oil” for downplaying the risks of climate change to attract investors. “Talk about hypocrisy,” he concludes.
Other commentators from around the country chimed in with their opinions of the lawsuits. The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s (CEI’s) Myron Ebell called the cases “ridiculous” and said the cities’ “aim is not to win the suits, but to settle, ‘hopefully for a large pot of money.’”
Paul Driessen wrote a column in Townhall that rightly notes:
“These are the same fuels that saved whales from imminent extinction and gave Boulder and humanity prosperity, technology, health and longevity no one could even imagine when Colorado became a state in 1876. But now they’re suing the companies that have provided reliable, affordable fuels and raw materials that have brought them lights, heat, livelihoods, living standards, and countless products from paints, plastics, pharmaceuticals and fertilizers to skis, ski parkas, and vehicle fuel and asphalt roads to ski areas.”
These columns and editorials came on the heels of a strongly worded amicus brief filed by 15 state attorneys general, including Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, in support of the energy industry last week. The AGs note in their brief:
“But the questions of global climate change and its effects — and the proper balance of regulatory and commercial activity — are political questions not suited for resolution by any court. Indeed, such judicial resolution would trample Congress’s carefully calibrated process of cooperative federalism where states work in tandem with [the Environmental Protection Agency] to administer the federal Clean Air Act.”
The news is still fresh, being that the local governments’ announcement was not yet even a week ago – with that said, there’s sure to be more prominent voices to speak out against Colorado communities jumping on the, once coastal, climate litigation bandwagon.