New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made some alarming comments on Senator Bernie Sanders’ podcast this week about his recent climate lawsuit against the energy industry – comments that contradict a key part of the lawsuit itself.
Mayor de Blasio told the Vermont socialist that he wants his lawsuit and divestment proposal to “help bring the death knell” to fossil fuels, including the oil and gas industry. He also hopes to extract “billions” of dollars from them in the legal process.
Here’s what Mayor de Blasio told Senator Sanders:
Senator Sanders: “What are you guys doing – what role can you play in taking on the fossil fuel industry?”
Mayor: “I’ll say this for New York City. We just acted, and I want to urge every city, every county, every state to do the same – divest. Divest from the fossil fuel industry. Let’s help bring the death knell to this industry that’s done so much harm. Like the tobacco companies that were successfully sued decades ago. We’re also suing five of the biggest including Exxon Mobil for example who systematically poisoned the Earth, knew about it, covered it up, explained it away, tried to hook people more and more on their product. We think that what every city can do and every locality – use your litigation power to go at these bad actors and get the resources back. We’re looking for billions to make up for what they’ve done to us. The cost of Sandy – Hurricane Sandy – alone in New York City was over $19 billion and we’re having to pay billions and billions more each year for resiliency. But the other thing is by divesting, let’s prove that this is an economically unviable industry. This is an industry that its assets should stay in the ground, and it’s not the industry of the future.” (emphasis added)
These comments could pose problems for Mayor de Blasio’s lawsuit. According to the city’s official complaint, the lawsuit explicitly denied any attempt to destroy the businesses they are suing:
“The City does not seek to impose liability on Defendants for their direct emissions of greenhouse gases, and does not seek to restrain Defendants from engaging in their business operations.” (emphasis added)
Mayor de Blasio, call your office.
The fact that the Mayor specifically linked his “death knell” comments to the city’s lawsuit and divestiture plan leaves little doubt about what he and the city were trying to achieve with those actions, even if the city claimed otherwise in its official filing.
Indeed, New York City’s actions were never about responding to unlawful activity or even mitigating the risks of climate change. Public officials like Mayor de Blasio and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman – along with their “brother and sister activists” – want to shut down energy producers. That’s going to be very painful for their constituents, though, as the New York Times reported last year that the majority of NYC’s power comes from natural gas, not to mention the caravan of de Blasio’s idling SUVs that run on gasoline.
Also notable in Mayor de Blasio’s comments to Senator Sanders is his admission that it’s all about the money. “We’re looking for billions,” he said on the podcast.
The Mayor’s comments completely align with those of one of the lawyers he hired to represent NYC in its lawsuit against the oil and gas companies: Steve Berman of plaintiffs’ firm Hagens Berman, who is also managing the San Francisco and Oakland lawsuits alongside Matt Pawa. Berman told VICE late last year that these lawsuits have “the potential really to bring down fossil fuel companies.” Like Mayor de Blasio, Berman has also admitted that he’s hoping for a big payday from these lawsuits:
“As our interview came to a close I asked Berman to describe the best-case scenario for all this. ‘Imagine if I could get ten or 15 cities to all sue and put the same pressure on the oil companies that we did with tobacco companies and create some kind of massive settlement,’ he said. He acted as if it was the first time he’d thought of the idea. But I got the feeling it wasn’t.” (emphasis added)