The Daily Mail has published a bombshell secret memo sent by leading #ExxonKnew activist-lawyer Matt Pawa to billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer, outlining a strategy to bring state-level class action lawsuits against energy companies and charging them with causing global warming. Pawa’s strategy is nearly identical to the lawsuits recently brought by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland against five energy companies, including ExxonMobil and Shell. Pawa is representing the plaintiffs in that case.
Coupled with a large donation to San Francisco’s mayor by Steyer, the memo suggests Pawa may have used Steyer’s money and influence to get San Francisco and Oakland to hire him to sue energy companies on their behalf.
The Pawa memo has its roots in the infamous 2012 La Jolla, Calif., conference, where anti-oil and gas activists devised a playbook for taking on the energy industry. The participants, including Matt Pawa, discussed various legal strategies that could “unearth” industry documents relating to climate change.
Pawa has operated in the shadows of the #ExxonKnew campaign since its inception at the La Jolla conference. After sending the memo to Steyer in 2015, Pawa met with other activists at a secret closed-door meeting at the Rockefeller Family Fund in January 2016. According to a leaked agenda from that meeting, Pawa and the others discussed ways to “delegitimize” the energy industry. After considering various strategies, the participants asked, “Which of these has the best prospects for successful action? For getting discovery? For creating scandal?”
In his memo to Steyer, Pawa writes that “simply proceeding to the discovery phase of a global warming case would be significant.”
Pawa then secretly briefed several state attorneys general ahead of their March 29 press conference with Al Gore where they announced that Massachusetts AG Maura Healey and U.S. Virgin Islands AG Claude Walker would join New York AG Eric Schneiderman in launching investigations into ExxonMobil’s climate research. When the Wall Street Journal reached out to Pawa to ask about his role in briefing the attorneys general, Pawa sent an email to Lem Srolovic with the New York Attorney General’s office asking what he should do. Srolovic responded, “My ask is if you speak to the reporter to not confirm that you attended or otherwise discuss the event.”
Though Tom Steyer has repeatedly denied any involvement or connection with the #ExxonKnew campaign, he and his activist organization NextGen Climate have actively participated in the crusade for years. A NextGen chapter in New Hampshire held a rally in April 2016 that tried to push that state’s attorney general to join Schneiderman’s ExxonMobil investigation. Though the webpage promoting the rally has disappeared, NextGen Climate NH tweeted a photo from the rally and NextGen’s national Twitter account tweeted, “We agree that New Hampshire should join the Exxon investigation.”
Strong support for NH joining the #ExxonKnew investigation.
— NextGen Climate NH (@NextGen_NH) April 21, 2016
NextGen also targeted then-Senator Kelly Ayotte and Senator Rob Portman with petitions urging them to investigate ExxonMobil, though those pages have also been removed. NextGen even signed an ExxonKnew.org letter that says, “The undersigned organizations firmly support U.S. state attorneys general for investigating corporations like Exxon for their possible past and ongoing climate fraud that is destroying our planet.” Steyer personally signed a 350.org letter petitioning the Department of Justice to open an investigation into ExxonMobil.
Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, Steyer has misled the press about his involvement, telling Politico, “We are not part of this effort.”
Email logs obtained via public information requests suggest New York AG Eric Schneiderman repeatedly attempted to use his ExxonMobil investigation as a hook to solicit donations from Steyer. The logs show that Schneiderman’s office emailed Steyer’s scheduler (Erin Suhr) five days after he subpoenaed ExxonMobil’s climate change research to follow up “on conversation re: company specific climate change information.” Then, a couple of weeks before his press conference with Al Gore, Schneiderman tried to arrange a call with Steyer “regarding support for his race for governor…regarding Exxon case.”
The Daily Mail also reveals that Steyer gave $30,000 to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee after NextGen received Pawa’s memo but before San Francisco hired Pawa to lead its lawsuit against the energy companies. Members of Lee’s administration were charged last year with accepting bribes and rumors continue to circulate about “‘pay to play’ politics in Lee’s administration.”
The 2015 memo from Pawa “tracks closely” with the lawsuit San Francisco ultimately filed, according to the Daily Mail. The article touches on a key point about the #ExxonKnew campaign:
“But the memo argues that climate change activists would not have to actually win the lawsuit in order to damage the oil industry.
“It claimed that ‘simply proceeding to the discovery phase of a global warming case’ – during which the oil corporations would be required to turn over internal documents – ‘would be significant’ for activists…
“’Just obtaining such documents gave the Tobacco litigation an unstoppable momentum, here to[o] obtaining industry documents would be a remarkable achievement that would advance the case and the cause.’”
The 2012 La Jolla strategy conference was subtitled “Lessons from Tobacco Control.”
This latest memo underscores that this campaign against energy companies has nothing to do with seeking damages or mitigating the effects of climate change. These lawsuits are purely about advancing “the cause,” “creating scandal,” and “delegitimiz[ing]” the industry.