Guest essay by Eric Worrall
h/t Dr. Willie Soon; As Baltimore’s misleading marketing case against big oil moves forward, Big Oil may be about to pay a heavy price for their inconsistent positioning on climate narratives.
Lawsuit alleging oil companies misled public about climate change moves forward
January 25, 20224:55 PM ET REBECCA HERSHER
A federal appeals court in Virginia heard a landmark case Tuesday that seeks to hold major fossil fuel companies accountable for their role in climate change. The court’s decision in the case will have implications for a raft of similar cases brought by cities, counties and states across the country.
The Supreme Court considered the jurisdiction question in the Baltimore case last year, and decided that a federal appeals court should decide where the Baltimore lawsuit is heard, paving the way for today’s arguments before a three-judge panel for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In his statement on behalf of oil and gas companies, attorney Kannon Shanmugam argued that state court is the wrong place for the lawsuit because climate change is global in scope, and is regulated by the federal government and by international agreements.
Karen Sokol, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans who studies climate liability cases, says that argument doesn’t hold water, because the allegations against the companies hinge on state laws that are meant to protect the public from misleading marketing.
Baltimore is asking state courts to weigh in on what Sokol calls a “long-standing, systematic deceptive marketing campaign designed to hide the catastrophic dangers,” of fossil fuels. Cases about consumer protection, including landmark lawsuits involving alleged corporate misinformation campaigns by tobacco companies, have historically been tried in state court.
…Read more: https://www.npr.org/2021/01/19/956005206/supreme-court-considers-baltimore-suit-against-oil-companies
I’m not a legal expert, but the issue appears to be that oil companies have admitted their product causes dangerous climate change. Instead of continuing to vigorously challenge alarmist narratives, they mostly went soft and tried to be everyone’s friend.
Now there is a real risk oil company’s own words could be used to hang them. Plaintiffs have plenty of material to quote, like public statements by oil companies saying they support the Paris Agreement will be contrasted with historical statements and publicity campaigns which appear to downplay the alleged climate crisis, and old internal documents like the 1982 Glasser memo, in which oil company scientists made alarming statements about climate change.
Oil companies are pleading that if they lose, it could threaten US energy security. But Baltimore has a severe debt crisis, and Baltimore politicians just awarded themselves a pay rise, so I’m guessing other people’s financial problems are not their top priority.
If oil companies had stood up to the climate bullies and their flimsy science right from the start, instead of attempting to finesse the situation by being everyone’s friend, they likely wouldn’t be in this mess.
Oil companies might claim they were sincere in their opposition to climate narratives, but realised their mistake and changed their minds, but if they take this line they will need some compelling arguments for why they thought it was OK to ignore internal warnings like the 1982 Glasser memo. Though having said that, my reading is Glasser was not an unequivocal warning that climate change was a problem.
The oil companies have not lost yet, but in my opinion their PR blunders and actions may have created a real problem for them, and a significant risk of serious financial loss.