A billionaire donor with close ties to prominent environmental activists arranged a private meeting between the Illinois Attorney General and a controversial attorney who is waging a legal campaign against energy producers, according to emails obtained through freedom of information laws.
The meeting, highlighted recently by investigative reporter Kevin Mooney, is the latest revelation in a series of articles presenting evidence of activists manipulating the record. But it also suggests that the plaintiffs’ attorneys pushing climate liability lawsuits across the country are more interested in attacking energy companies than protecting communities from climate change.
Mooney’s latest report shines a spotlight on the work of Wendy Abrams, a billionaire environmentalist and a major Democratic donor closely connected with top environmental leaders, including Tom Steyer, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Bill McKibben. Abrams is also a part-time lobbyist for the Environmental Defense Fund and serves on the boards of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the left-wing Center for American Progress, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and RFK, Jr.’s Waterkeeper Alliance.
Emails between Abrams and the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan dating back to February 2016 were recently unveiled by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). The correspondence shows Abrams arranging a meeting to provide the attorney general and her staff “with a presentation of Exxon’s early knowledge of climate change and its subsequent campaign of deception and denial.” Abrams requested that she be allowed to bring three of the attorneys central to the #ExxonKnew campaign with her to the meeting: Matt Pawa, Steve Berman, and Sharon Eubanks. Abrams laid out her rationale in a letter:
“These lawyers are focused on assisting states in investigating whether Exxon has violated consumer fraud statutes and in particular on the possibility of obtaining injunctive relief similar to the federal RICO injunction, e.g., requiring Exxon to disclose all of its documents on this matter, prohibiting further deceptive statements and requiring the issuance of corrective statements.”
As Energy In Depth has previously documented, Matt Pawa is a key figure in the #ExxonKnew campaign and is representing San Francisco, Oakland, New York City, and King County, Washington, in their respective climate lawsuits. Sharon Eubanks was deputy director of the U.S. Department of Justice during the 1990s tobacco litigation and has been a public proponent of investigating ExxonMobil for alleged climate fraud. Both Eubanks and Pawa have been previously exposed for giving private presentations to attorneys general, urging them to investigate ExxonMobil.
The involvement of Steve Berman, however, adds a new wrinkle to the story. Berman made his name negotiating the massive $206 billion settlement with tobacco companies in the 1990s – the largest legal settlement ever. A VICE profile of Berman from last year revealed he is hoping to top his own record with a set of lawsuits against energy companies, the very same lawsuits brought by Pawa. That’s because Berman’s firm absorbed Pawa’s in 2017, which makes his appearance alongside Pawa in Wendy Abrams’ 2016 emails all the more curious.
As the Washington Examiner concludes:
“The emails from Abrams to Madigan’s office are important because they demonstrate that the coordinated climate action campaign against energy companies began much sooner than what is commonly thought. The emails advance Berman’s involvement by more than a year and provide evidence that the lawsuits brought by Hagens Berman on both coasts have less to do with mitigating sea level rise and more to do with attacking oil and gas companies – by any means necessary.” (emphasis added)
Additional documents show that Pawa gave the same presentation, “What Exxon Knew—And What It Did Anyway,” to the assembled attorneys general and their staff ahead of their infamous March 29, 2016, press conference at the New York Attorney General’s office. After viewing Pawa’s presentation, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced she would be joining the New York Attorney General’s investigation of ExxonMobil.
But Healey’s investigation has been stalled from the beginning, and earlier this month ExxonMobil petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to block her investigation for lack of jurisdiction. If the court agrees to hear the case, the collusion between activists, donors, and the attorneys general is likely to raise serious questions from the justices.