In a highly-coordinated move, nearly 30 scientists, government officials and third-party organizations recently joined the fledgling climate litigation campaign. The group signed onto 8 separate amicus briefs filed Tuesday to advocate on behalf of six California municipalities suing fossil fuel companies for climate change.
The free-for-all included a brief filed by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who saw this as an opportunity to file a bizarre 34-page diatribe against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is not a party to the litigation.
The filings were made in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and, as E&E News reported, it demonstrates “the latest stage of a carefully orchestrated effort by local governments in California and elsewhere to use state law to collect damages from companies producing and marketing fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gases when burned” (emphasis added).
The fact that all eight of the briefs were filed within hours of one another on a random January afternoon (i.e. there wasn’t a court-designated deadline) is reason enough to suspect some level of coordination took place, but this becomes less speculative when one considers the parties who submitted the filings. Signing onto the amicus briefs were many of the activists and politicians who have played key roles in the broader campaign to take down the oil and natural gas industry for years.
Debunked Researchers Peddling Debunked Research
Oreskes, a Harvard University professor, and Supran, a visiting post-doctoral fellow at Harvard, published a study in 2017 that falsely concluded ExxonMobil misled the public on climate change. An expert in content analysis published a rebuttal to the Supran/Oreskes paper, accusing the duo of relying on data analysis that is “unreliable, invalid, biased, not generalizable, and not replicable.” A separate review from Energy In Depth found that the authors used an incomplete sampling of data that was gathered from a Greenpeace database instead of the full source material.
The two academics, though, are noteworthy in their own right. The New York Times identified Oreskes as one of the original architects of the now largely defunct #ExxonKnew campaign, which began with a meeting she organized in La Jolla, Calif., in 2012. Supran is an outspoken leader in the fossil fuel divestment campaign and also recently served as an expert witness for the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights where he testified about his research. Supran famously omitted the criticism of his work, even when he was prompted to do so by the commission.
The other signers of the amicus brief have also made their ties to the anti-fossil fuel activist campaign clear.
Last November, Ben Franta authored a letter published in the journal Nature claiming that the American Petroleum Institute (API), an industry trade group, was informed of the existence of climate change in 1965 and somehow kept that information secret from the public. That same year, scientists briefed then-President Lyndon Johnson about climate change.
The research supporting Franta’s letter was funded by another signer of the amicus brief – the Center for Climate Integrity (CCI). CCI is a project of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD) and was launched in 2017 by activist Richard Wiles to support “meritorious climate cases aimed at holding fossil fuel companies and other climate polluters liable for the damages they have caused.” Wiles is also the publisher of Climate Liability News, a dark-money “news” site launched in 2017 to promote climate litigation and the executive producer of the Drilled podcast, which features Franta, Oreskes, Brulle, and Supran and was launched just a week prior to Franta’s letter.
And the last signer on this brief, Robert Brulle, authored a paper examining which think tanks received donations from the fossil fuel industry and would later be cited by Sen. Whitehouse in an op-ed calling for the industry to be harassed and investigated by the federal government.
Whitehouse’s Wild Ride
Sen. Whitehouse also submitted an amicus brief attacking the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is not being sued in this litigation but had filed an amicus brief in defense of the energy companies earlier in the case. Generally speaking, amicus briefs are supposed to give a court helpful insight into the legal issues in a case, something he should be familiar with as the former attorney general of Rhode Island.
Before he even finished the first sentence of his argument, the Senator dove into a meandering footnote that consumes most of the first page, at one point writing:
“As astronomers divine the presence of dark bodies from their effect on the behavior of visible bodies, one can divine some unseen force driving the Chamber to a position on climate issues no member corporation will publicly espouse.”
In other words, he has no evidence that what he says is true, he simply divines it to be so.
Sen. Whitehouse cites only three cases to support his arguments and otherwise relies on an aberrant collection of sources, including the Philosophical Works of David Hume, a veto message from Andrew Jackson, and a blog post from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The attorney general from Whitehouse’s home state of Rhode Island, Peter Neronha, was one of eight attorneys general from around the country who signed onto one of the other amicus briefs filed this week in support of the climate lawsuits. Representatives from the Union of Concerned Scientists and Public Citizen, two activist groups heavily involved in the #ExxonKnew campaign, also submitted briefs.