Another nuisance climate lawsuit has been filed against the fossil fuel industry, and all elements of the case resemble those cities and counties across the country have brought over the past year and a half, except for one aspect of it: the plaintiffs. On Wednesday, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association (PCFFA) sued 30 energy companies, alleging their operations caused climate change, which has damaged the ocean and forced closures of several crab fisheries on the west coast. Upon a closer look, however, this group doesn’t seem like an outsider among the coordinated and connected network of trial attorneys, activists and deep-pocketed donors driving the broader climate litigation campaign.
Sher Edling Attorney Is Former PCFFA Director
PCFFA is being represented by Sher Edling, one of the two main law firms representing several of the cities and counties in climate lawsuits that have been filed in several jurisdictions across the country from California to Rhode Island. One of the attorneys from the law firm listed on the complaint is Tim Sloane, who is the former executive director of PCFFA. Sloane led the organization from March 2015 until February 2017 and left only to immediately join the ranks of Sher Edling.
PCFFA Director Affiliated With Broader #ExxonKnew Campaign
Prior to joining the organization, current PCFFA Executive Director Noah Oppenheim was a staffer for U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA-02), one of the policymakers who led calls for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate ExxonMobil to determine if the company misled the public and its investors on climate change. Getting the Golden State to join New York’s and Massachusetts’ investigations of the company has been a goal of the activists behind the #ExxonKnew campaign for years, and while Becerra has said he will “look closely” at the merits behind his peers’ moves, he hasn’t launched anything close to a formal inquiry.
While working for Rep. Huffman, Oppenheim handled “oceans, energy, federal lands, and natural resources portfolios,” and specifically was “working at warp speed to introduce legislation aimed at reducing fossil fuel use on federal lands.” Oppenheim wasted little time in continuing his fight against fossil fuels in his new capacity.
PCFFA Has Several Ties to Activist Groups
The PCFFA partners with many groups to execute its goals, some of which it describes are “allied organizations.” Included under this title are several environmental activist organizations, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, EarthJustice and Defenders of Wildlife.
Not only does the PCFFA have direct ties to these groups, but so does Sher Edling, and namely the law firm’s head partner, Vic Sher. From 1986 to 1997, Sher practiced law for EarthJustice and from 1994 until he left in 1997, he was the president of the anti-fossil fuels organization. What’s more, Sher later went on to serve on the board of directors at the Defenders of Wildlife, a group that calls climate change “the single biggest threat facing our planet today,” from 2006 to 2011.
Despite Lawsuit Claims, Strong Crab Season Expected
While PCFFA’s lawsuit complained of “delayed seasons and disastrous economic losses due to ocean warming,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the “local commercial Dungeness crab season will open on time.” The paper quoted a local fisherman who said “there could be a lower-than-average supply because of normal fluctuations in the crab population,” but said other “fishermen and industry watchers expect a good crab year with a fairly consistent supply.”
Despite the novelty of the plaintiff, PCFFA’s lawsuit is nothing new. The activist-affiliated, anti-fossil fuel organization is only the latest vessel Sher Edling has co-opted in an effort to win hundreds of millions in court and attempt to strike a major blow against energy companies.