It’s a bright day for Fort Lauderdale. Despite a full-court press by climate activists, city officials have decided not to pursue a climate liability lawsuit. This is a blow for climate activists, who are hoping to expand their litigation campaign into Florida.
Over the past six months, lawyers and environmental groups have devoted considerable time and effort to persuading cities in the Sunshine State to join their quixotic climate litigation campaign. Despite their efforts, Fort Lauderdale was not convinced.
EarthRights International hides behind NGO to lobby city officials.
Released emails show that EarthRights International, the Rockefeller-funded organization representing the City and County of Boulder and San Miguel County in their climate change lawsuit, and the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD) coordinated to lobby Fort Lauderdale city officials throughout 2018.
In June, Mayor Dean Trantalis and his chief of staff, Scott Wyman, received emails from a Miami Beach lobbyist, Seth Platt. Platt was hired to represent IGSD, which runs the Center for Climate Integrity, a project that “supports meritorious climate cases aimed at holding fossil fuel companies and other climate polluters liable for the damages they have caused.” The emails show that Platt was eager to introduce Trantalis and Wyman to EarthRights International (ERI) and their agent, Jorge Musuli, who Platt said was working with the City of Miami to file a climate nuisance lawsuit:
“I have invited Jorge Mursuli to the meeting as his group, [ERI], is working with the City of Miami to file a lawsuit. We are trying to collaborate on advocacy in Broward.”
By his second email, Platt abandoned all mentions IGSD, the group he was actually hired by, and focused his attention on his mission to establish a meeting between ERI and city officials.
“It makes sense that our lead counsel at Earthrights comes see you and your team to best discuss potential strategy.”
Sher Edling joins EarthRights International in their pursuit
In a surprising twist of fate, ERI added another plaintiffs’ attorney firm involved in climate litigation, Sher Edling, as co-counsel in their pursuit of the city. By July, Seth Platt had arranged for Vic Sher and Matt Edling, who represent more than a dozen cities in climate cases, to join ERI for a meeting with Fort Lauderdale City Attorney Alain Boileau. After the meeting, Boileau followed up with the mayor, telling his boss about the “positive meeting” he had had with Sher, Edling, Marco Simons (general counsel for ERI), and Mursuli, all thanks to Platt.
IGSD finds itself at the center of the climate litigation campaign…. again
Platt’s lobbying affiliation highlights the well-coordinated network of climate activism aimed at taking down fossil fuels by any means necessary. IGSD is a key player in a carefully organized media campaign that rehashes a stale, repeatedly debunked story for the sake of silencing dissent . Richard Wiles, who serves as the ringleader for their climate litigation campaign, produced the IGSD-funded podcast Drilled and published Climate Liability News, an activist site designed to promote climate litigation.
ERI fails to impress the City Commission
In October ERI General Counsel Marco Simons gave a presentation to Trantalis and the Fort Lauderdale City Commission. The meeting was a full court press that emphasized how climate change could hurt city finances and how wealthy anti-fossil fuel foundations were willing to foot the bill for the lawsuit. Simons explained their strategy during the pitch:
“At the litigation stage it would be necessary to join together with co-counsel from private firms. They would be interested in pursuing this on a contingency fee-basis… And it would be a combination of our pro-bono representation and a private firm, contingent fee representation, again with no up-front cost to the city and that’s the model that’s been done in all of these cases so far.”
Thankfully, Fort Lauderdale decided to resist the pressure. Despite the focus Simons put on how the lawsuit could financially benefit the city, it would tie the city up in litigation for months or years, taking attention away from much needed resiliency projects. So far, none of the plaintiffs – or the cities – pursuing climate litigation across the country have seen a dime. Meanwhile, the major green donors financing the pro bono legal work are using the lawsuits to promote their own climate agenda, both in the courtroom and the court of public opinion.
Local voices also reject lawsuits
Over the past several months, op-ed pieces in papers around Florida have emphasized that suing energy companies distracts attention from the harms of climate change and discourages cooperation between industry and government. In a Naples Daily News op-ed this spring, Sal Nuzzo of the Tallahassee-based James Madison Institute, criticized using lawsuits to develop state policy, instead pushing for cooperation between businesses and government for environmental issues:
“For policies to succeed, public officials must work with business…Florida’s unemployment rate is low and our economy is growing at a faster pace than the U.S. economy overall in part because our tax and regulatory burdens are lower than many other states. A hostile approach toward manufacturers would ill serve our state and hinder efforts to address environmental issues.”
Not only does litigation waste taxpayer money, it also distracts from state-level policies that are making meaningful improvements to Florida’s environment. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) “went green” in the words of political columnist Barney Bishop, who wrote in the Sunshine State News to praise the governor for his plan to invest heavily in resiliency efforts and Everglades restoration and water cleanup, an approach he contrasted with that of “public officials working hand in hand with activists”:
“The reality is that real-life actions like the ones being taken by Gov. Ron DeSantis are the best way to help our environment. Lawsuits such as these offer no real benefit and only serve to threaten American companies and American jobs.”
It’s a good thing Fort Lauderdale saw through the scam.