Ruling Brings Exxon Closer to Deposing Key Players Driving Climate Lawsuits

A state judge in Texas has left the door open for ExxonMobil to seek deposition testimony from many of the key players who are the driving force behind climate change lawsuits from local governments like San Francisco, Oakland, and New York City.

Exxon is claiming it is the target of conspiracies by individuals and government officials who want to gain access to the energy giant’s internal documents, and regulate the company’s speech, especially as it relates to climate change and fossil fuels.

San Francisco, Oakland, New York City, and a handful of other smaller governments alleged in federal court that energy producers like Exxon, BP, and Chevron knew as early as the 1980s that their product contributed to climate change, but then ignored those conclusions in favor of a public relations campaign that would sow doubt about potential environmental harm.

Exxon’s court filing in Texas, where it is headquartered, claims “the allegations in the [original lawsuits] are not honestly held and were not made in good faith,” and further stated that a “collection of special interests and opportunistic politicians are abusing law enforcement authority and legal process to impose their viewpoint on climate change.”

The legal moves by the oil giant are not currently a lawsuit, however, and are only a petition for “pre-suit depositions.” A spokesman with the City of San Francisco’s city attorney called the developments a “smokescreen.”

Judge R.H. Wallace, Jr. issued “Findings of Fact” on the case last week that appeared to acknowledged many key claims by the company. In doing so, Judge Wallace confirmed the court had jurisdiction over the matter, meaning some of the primary movers in the federal complaints from places like San Francisco could be deposed. But at the same time, he foreclosed access to seven other individuals Exxon had hoped to depose.

The timeline for the conspiracy alleged by Exxon dates back to 2012 when attorney and environmental activist Matt Pawa was a featured speaker at a conference on “climate accountability” in La Jolla, Calif.

Exxon is painting an outline by which they say Pawa, who is also counsel on the litigation being brought by San Francisco and Oakland, spearheaded the litigation campaign for political reasons and not because of “a bona fide belief in any tortious conduct by the defendants or actual damage to their jurisdictions.”

In Judge Wallace’s filing, he referenced the 2012 La Jolla conference, writing:

  1. During the conference, participants discussed strategies to “[w]in [a]ccess to [i]nternal [d]ocuments” of energy companies, like ExxonMobil, that could be used to obtain leverage over these companies. The conference participants concluded that using law enforcement powers and civil litigation to “maintain pressure on the industry that could eventually lead to its support for legislative and regulatory responses to global warming.” One commentator observed, “Even if your ultimate goal might be to shut down a company, you still might be wise to start out by asking for compensation for injured parties.”
  2. At the conference, the attendees also concluded that “a single sympathetic state attorney general might have substantial success in bringing key internal documents to light.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman held a press conference in March 2016 from his offices with several other Democratic attorneys general announcing they would be investigating ExxonMobil.

Former Vice President Al Gore, an Academy Award winner for his documentary on climate change, was also in attendance and feted by Schneiderman.

Matt Pawa was not on the stage. However, emails obtained by the free-market think tank E&E Legal via the Vermont Public Records Law show he was involved with the day’s press conference.

After being contacted by a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, Pawa emailed the spokesperson to AG Schneiderman’s office asking how, or if, he should respond.

“My ask is if you speak to a reporter, to not confirm that you attended or otherwise discuss the event,” Lem Srolovic, Schneiderman’s spokesperson, responded.

Judge Wallace wrote that his court had jurisdiction to allow the depositions because Pawa had “[instigated] state attorneys general to commence investigations of ExxonMobil in order to obtain documents stored in Texas.”

The judge’s ruling also referenced a small number of bond offerings issued by the cities, noting that “[w]hile the California municipalities alleged in their complaints against the energy companies that the impact of climate change was knowable, quantifiable, and certain, they told their investors the exact opposite.”

“These contradictions raise the question of whether the California municipalities brought these lawsuits for an improper purpose,” he wrote.

A spokesman for the city of San Francisco dismissed the developments.

“These proceedings in Texas are simply a smokescreen,” said John Coté, communications director for the San Francisco city attorney’s office.

“Exxon’s attack on the California cities and counties that have sued Big Oil is part of the company’s usual playbook,” Coté continued. “Exxon similarly sued the attorneys general of Massachusetts and New York after those states launched investigations. A federal judge just dismissed Exxon’s case there, finding it was based on ‘extremely thin allegations and speculative inferences.’ Here’s the bottom line: The oil industry has known about climate change for decades, they knew their products were causing it, and they misled the public about it. No legal shell game in Texas is going to change that.”

Coté was referencing a ruling in federal court in which U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni dismissed Exxon’s lawsuits against two of the attorneys general for initiating “bad faith” investigations into the company’s activities related to climate change research and communications. Caproni dismissed the suit with prejudice, meaning the company cannot try to bring it again.

Requests for comment from Pawa and from Attorney General Schneiderman’s office were not returned.

Full story at the Free Beacon

61 thoughts on “Ruling Brings Exxon Closer to Deposing Key Players Driving Climate Lawsuits

  1. Critical Thinking is DEAD in the USA! …. just look at these lines.
    pp. Exxon knew about Climate Change! …. hell …we ALL “know” about Climate Change, and the never ending banter of the left and media to say it is dangerous. …. So … who gives a damn???
    The restaurant business KNOWS salt can cause high blood pressure in salt sensitive individuals!! … and people line up to consume. Automobile Manufacturers KNOW that people die in car crashes … and people keep buying cars. Timber companies KNOW they are cutting down trees and causing change to the environment … etc. …. we all KNOW the sun will come up tomorrow.
    This is like saying … You know you are breathing, and that produces CO2!! … so .. pay up you dirty scoundrel.
    Somebody remind me of what the “crime” is here?? Where is the damage, and the proof that it was caused by fossil fuels.

    • The link between salt, specifically sodium chloride, in food to hypertension is pretty tenuous to non existant. If you want to rant about food additives causing issues, talk about sugar.

      • rocketscientist: I have to strongly agree with you about NaCl salt. In summer, if I don’t substantially increase my salt intake, I get mild to pretty nasty muscle cramps.

      • Without carbohydrates, animals would have to burn protein and fats for energy, hence these essential biochemicals wouldn’t be available for their essential functions.
        We should be grateful to plants and other photosynthesizing organisms not only for making the oxygen which we breathe but the sugars which power our lives.

      • John M
        Make sure you are getting enough magnesium if you’re getting cramps like that

      • rocketscientist, I think you’re right. Ancient man never imbibed processed sugar the way we do now. That much sugar is an assault on the pancreas & requires a relatively large release of insulin to deal w/it. If that happens repeatedly decade after decade…..

      • Former95B May 3, 2018 at 7:43 pm
        “Without sugar, people become lethargic ”
        And if she ain’t gettin’ any sugar, she can become very ornery!

      • I dropped mono- and di- saccharides from my diet, as well as any foods which we are capable of digesting down into those chemicals in late 2015. After entering mild ketosis three days after cutting the carbs, I started losing weight (195 down to 170, low of 145 a year ago, 155-160 today by choice); perpetual joint inflammation gone completely in the neck, knees, hips, shoulders; and the best result of all is that the headache I’d had since 2002 went away. The migraines that the perpetual headache would initiate a few times a month went away.
        Cheating on this low simple carb diet is easy to do, but always regrettable for me.
        No carbonated sugar water, no clear fruit juices, no “sports” drinks, no bread (of any kind), no rice, no potatoes, no candy.
        The calories are replaced with fats and oils (plant or animal), veggies, whole fruit, dairy products, eggs, dark legume seeds, keeping the polysaccharides that may be digested into simple sugars to a minimum.

      • Tell that to my doctors. the entire medical community will disagree that the link between salt and blood pressure is “tenuous.”

      • A couple of generations ago, red meat and potatoes were bad for you, now red meat is full of iron and potatoes are full of fibre instead of fattening starch.
        The UK’s “5 A Day” regarding fruit and vegetables was just an arbitrary number they pulled out of thin air.
        During the skin cancer scare, school children weren’t allowed to play out in the open without wide-brimmed hats, long sleeved shirts and who knows what chemistry smeared on their skin. But the end result was an increase in rickets thanks to vitamin D deficiency, and a reduction of melanin and natural UV resistance thanks to pale skin.
        Every few years there’s the same ridiculous back and forth, usually with negative consequences either brought on by reality, or the “health” industry flip-flopping on its message yet again.
        The health industry has been full of marketing lies since inception, and grabbermints have been pushing that misinformation to provide reason for legislation to place you in a class of self-inflicted to pay higher insurance (tax) premiums.
        You’ve been slated to die since conception. We only live twice but we don’t know if it’s our second time around. It’s yours, so forget the pointless calorie-math, polysaccharides and just live with what works for you.

    • To tell the truth, I don’t understand how anyone can argue that this isn’t a clear violation of the first amendment. It’s extremely transparent that Exxon is being punished for political speech. They aren’t even really trying to hide it.

      • Since GamerGate, it isn’t even hidden or subtle: a part of the left hates free speech when it contradicts their propaganda, and will applaud when a “so called judge” restricts protected speech.

  2. I know it won’t happen but I wish the oil companies would stop delivering their products to places like NYC and SF.

    • That may happen sooner than you think, whether oil companies want to or not. NYC is hellbent on cutting down on it’s traffic problems. And how is its government doing it? By legislating away vehicle ownership– not directly, of course, but rather by making it so expensive that it’s not financially feasible for the average citizen of NYC to own a vehicle, let alone operate it. Where there’s no sustainable demand for oil, there’s no market for oil companies.

      • As long as the alternatives are viable and practical, that’s fine. Many cities around the world have done similar, or have “vehicle free days”.
        Personally, I’d leave the city in preference to paying exorbitant costs just to own a vehicle.

      • A friend of mine once proposed the perfect solution to NYC’s (specifically Manhattan) traffic problems – “Just make all the bridges and tunnels one-way going OUT.” LOL.

    • Exxon can’t just stop delivery without notice. That would be in violation of their contract. They can’t wait for the contracts to run out, because the other companies would simply swoop in to replace them.
      If I was in Exxon’s seat, I would ask the judge to make such an order, that no petroleum products could be delivered to or sold in any participating state. To do otherwise is hypocrisy. If the snowball’s chance comes and it’s actually granted, then the result would be utter chaos.

      • Why should any company do business in places where they are under threat of litigation against them?
        If other companies move in to fill the gap, then they may also be subject to similar litigation threats?

  3. “[w]hile the California municipalities alleged in their complaints against the energy companies that the impact of climate change was knowable, quantifiable, and certain, they told their investors the exact opposite.”
    This is the lever that will move the planet.

    • J Mac
      Cue Jaws anthem………..Dum, Dum, Dum, Dum, Dum, Dem………………………

    • These AG clowns need to be brought under under RICO statutes, especially Schniderman.

  4. I wonder if Exxon could point out that these local governments continue to allow Gasoline and other petroleum products to be sold in their jurisdictions, and collect substantial tax revenue from it, despite “knowing” about climate change for many decades. So by their own logic, they should be held liable as well. If the costs outweigh the benefits, surely they would have made the sale of all petroleum products illegal.

    • I thought the same thing, and agree. I don’t recall where I read this but it was along the lines that the Oil industry was taking the stance of (paraphrased of course: from memory) “Hey, we just make the stuff, we didn’t burn all of it; go after the people who burned it: car drivers, cement industry, manufacturer’s etc: they’re the ones that are “harming” the environment…not us”.

    • These global warming lawsuits were supposed to be the light at the end of the tunnel for AGWers when it comes to finally fully controlling the issue. Given this new development, what key people like attorney Matt Pawa might be instead be seeing is the locomotive light of an oncoming libel/slander retaliatory legal action train:
      “SEPP is exploring if, as a party possibly slandered in the City of Oakland complaint …”

  5. What I learned from this is as follows:
    1) The plan to shake down Exxon was pitched to the attendees at the 2012 La Jolla conference, where Matt Pawa was a featured speaker.
    2) Pawa is spearheading the litigation campaign brought by San Francisco and Oakland against Exxon, following the shakedown plan that was discussed at the 2012 La Jolla conference.
    3) Pawa was part of the March 2016 press conference announcing that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and ‘several other Democrat attorney generals’ were also investigating Exxon/Mobil, following the shakedown plan discussed at the 2012 La Jolla conference.
    4) When Pawa was asked about his participation with the March 2016 press conference by the Wall Street Journal, he was advised by Schneiderman to not respond and did not, thus concealing the participation of the original conspiracy author and lead litigant.
    5) Texas state judge R.H. Wallace, Jr. has been sufficiently briefed on the litigation to recognize the ambiguities of San Francisco and Oakland claims and to allow Exxon to depose Pawa
    A round of applause for Judge R.H. Wallace, Jr. !!! Turn about is fair play, in Texas it seems. I hope the depositions can further outline the conspiracy, the coordinated actions and attempts to conceal same, and ultimately expose the purveyors of this attempted legal shake down to the bright spot light of American justice!

    • Maybe hundreds of millions.

      For major battles between big companies, attorneys’ fees of more than $300,000 per month are now commonplace in the United States. link

      Some lawyers charge $1500 per hour. link Still, 300k sounds like a lot for a single lawyer. On the other hand, it sounds like a real bargain for 20 lawyers.
      I seem to recall that IBM’s lawyers were paid more than a hundred million in its lawsuit with SCO.

  6. We have produced way too many lawyers. Those suing the oil companies are using the tobacco paradigm. The big difference is that oil is not addictive like nicotine so people have choices, especially today. But why the oil companies? Natural gas has allowed the USA to decrease CO2 emission more than any other country. I thought the real bad guys were the coal industry. Or do they think the Obama Administration drove a stake through the heart of that industry. Nope, the idiots suing are after what most lawyers and leftists politicians want and desire most, ever more money. I wonder what the lawyers piece of the action will be.

    • Knew is a meme. The meme was happily created by extremists, Greenpeace International’s supporters or staff. It won’t go away for a while. But in a court, “knew” is not an argument. So they should loose. And given this case is extraordinary in the sense it is possible to show conspiring malicious intent, it should be possible to claim for damages.

  7. “key players who are the driving force behind climate change lawsuits from” Climate change? or Global Warming? It is so easy to fall into the trap of ever changing PR terms. It started out “Co2 causes global warming change” to just “global warming”, change to “Co2 causes climate change change” to “climate change”, change to “climate disruption”. I’m glad Exxon is fighting back.

  8. The best kind of tort reform is the kind where you sue the crap out of people who bring frivolous lawsuits. Make them pay for costing you time and money and for clogging up the courts so that people with legitimate claims have to wait to get their day in court. Stick it to them and make them feel real pain so they think long and hard before trying their juvenile tactic again.

    • To show that it was not only Exxon which knew?
      Or that the scientists had no clue and a single company had some better judgement?

      • Exxon is alleging a conspiracy:
        “collection of special interests and opportunistic politicians are abusing law enforcement authority and legal process to impose their viewpoint on climate change.”
        The climategate emails are very clear evidence of exactly this.

  9. I liked Exxon much better under Lee Raymond – he had the courage to face down blatant falsehoods like global warming alarmism and not acquiesce to them.
    The current crop of oil industry executives don’t seem to “own a pair” among the lot of them, and they are now reaping the reward of their cowardly surrender to green extortionists. They have cost their shareholders a fortune.
    A responsible oil exec would lead a lawsuit against these green extortionists and drive them into the ground.
    However, that is not the nature of the modern CEO. Clearly, his “politically-correct” approach is not working.

  10. Read the latest filings here:
    Read particularly the general motion to dismiss, 4/19/08, which will be heard on May 24.
    It is closely argued, well cited, persuasive, and I think, reading it, there is some real chance that there will be a dismissal.

    • Any reasonably knowledgeable person would have known from the git-go that the Cities’ lawsuit was doomed to failure. The motion for dismissal laid out the salient reasons.
      I was hoping to see more about a bad-faith lawsuit. I’m hoping they would get at the people behind the lies and hold them liable.

  11. Reading the link put here by Michael theres seems to be one especially cogent argument, i.e., that the EPA now controls whether and how much CO2 is good for the atmosphere. It seems that the liberals outdid themselves by pursuing this even to the courts. They are now stuck with this and can no longer use common law to assail oil and gas producers or even users. They must now use the EPA to get what they want. Good luck over the next few years!

    • Yes, and there are other very powerful arguments. One is causation: the claimants have not proved that the defendants conduct has caused damage – because if real, its due to CO2 not to the defendants’ CO2. Another is actual damage – you can only claim in common law damages you have actually incurred, not ones that are forecast by modelling to occur. Another is that the defendants simply extracted the oil and gas, an activity which is actively encouraged by law and government. The creation of the emissions is done by the use.
      A devastating argument is that the appropriate remedy for continuing damages is an injunction to cease and desist, not to claim damages. Why have they not sought an injunction to desist?
      Of course, we know why. This is the legal question, and I think it is unanswerable. if Exxon and its co defendants are destroying civilization as we know it, and the California coastline which is such an important part of that, why do you want to let them go ahead and pay you? Surely they should be stopped!
      Read all 40+ pages of the dismissal claim. It will open your eyes.

  12. Just a 2 yrs ago Citizens United was in the news constantly. Suddenly when the Left got major companies to go along with them (Dick’s sporting goods, NFL, ESPN, etc) and take public stands, ….crickets. Of course it is still bad for a company to have the WRONG public stance.

  13. In the Irony department, New England is so against fossil fuels that they won’t allow fracking or even pipelines to bring gas in, so in winter they buy Russian gas brought in by ship. Talk about collusion!

    • Collusion is when you seem to accept information for free from Russia. It’s intelligence with the enemy.
      OTOH paying the “enemy” for dirt is OK.

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