Home Climate justice Opinion: The high costs of climate ‘justice’ through law

Opinion: The high costs of climate ‘justice’ through law


The anti-energy left has weaponized consumer protection laws in the United States to punish oil and gas companies

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The anti-energy left has weaponized consumer protection laws in the United States to punish oil and gas companies simply for doing their core business. If their legislation is successful, there will be serious repercussions for the energy security of North America and the West.

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According to a recent Frontline story, at least 20 cities and states across the United States have filed lawsuits against energy companies for various alleged breaches related to climate change. The defendants include usual suspects like Exxon Mobil, Chevron and BP, but also the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association that represents oil companies.

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It is, as the story notes, a “relatively new legal tactic” and favored by left-leaning prosecutors and attorneys general to inflict pain on perceived villains — and, one might imagine, stoke their own base. Politics. The trend started (unsurprisingly) with a handful of California cities, and these have been followed by reliable left-leaning attorneys general in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Minnesota, among others.

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While each lawsuit is slightly different, analysts note that they draw heavily on common torts and statutes used in lawsuits against tobacco and drug companies for allegedly misrepresenting the effects of some of their products to consumers. .

In this case, the plaintiffs’ theory appears to be that the energy companies had secret knowledge about the link between fossil fuels and climate change that they knowingly and maliciously withheld from the public. Companies, for their part, rightly point out that they have no particular monopoly on climate science, quite the contrary! Additionally, they point out that they sell their products under extensive and increasingly stringent regulations set by various levels of government.

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But this type of legal activism for “climate justice” is gaining momentum, both in the United States (Canada’s top energy export destination) and here in Canada as well. For instance, Vancouver City Council recently voted to fund a class action lawsuit in 2023 against so-called “Big Oil.”

Almost none of these cases have gone to trial yet, and the one that has has been – rightly, in my opinion – dismissed. But given the high stakes and political incentives involved, I don’t expect plaintiffs to resign anytime soon, especially since the structure of the court system in the United States gives them a potentially decisive advantage. . In particular, the US plaintiffs argue that these lawsuits should take place in state and local courts, where they can shop around and choose more favorable jurisdictions.

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Climate policy is federal and regulatory in nature – not (something) that can be decided by state courts

Phil Goldberg

US oil companies countered that these cases should be tried in federal, not state, courts. As Phil Goldberg, special counsel for the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project, told Pew in April 2022: “Climate policy is federal and regulatory in nature – not (something) that can be decided by state courts. “

I think Goldberg is right and the anti-energy crusaders are wrong. As a former US Department of Justice official put it in an article for Legal Newsline, trying these cases in regional courts “would create a mosaic of legal norms this would have a direct impact on national energy policy, which not only impacts national energy production, but also foreign policy decisions.

As if to underscore the obvious truth that energy policy is national (and international) policy, US President Joseph Biden has spent the last year promising to “decarbonize” the US economy. and chiding U.S. producers for not pumping more oil and gas to relieve rising prices he attributes to world events.

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Indeed, at a time when energy prices are soaring, we need this kind of legal activism like we need a hole in the head. If any of the huge damages sought by the plaintiffs in these lawsuits were ultimately to be awarded, the costs will almost certainly be transmitted to consumers. And since, through production and/or transportation costs, the price of fossil fuels is built into the price of many other things we consume, this would inevitably create even more inflation.

Moreover, raising costs for Canadian and American oil producers in such a discriminatory fashion could also very well provide an unfair competitive advantage to oil producers from countries as distinguished and respectful of human rights as Saudi Arabia. , Venezuela and Russia.

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North American governments should not create a policy environment that disadvantages domestic producers to the benefit of foreign producers, so let’s hope this legislation against energy companies fails. Policymakers must create a comprehensive and predictable energy policy framework, as opposed to a set of different standards crafted by ambitious prosecutors and attorneys general who care more about pleasing their militant base than energy security and economic vitality.

Michel Kelly-Gagnon is President and CEO of the Montreal Economic Institute and Senior Researcher at the Atlas Network.

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