The following op-ed appeared in the Southeast Texas Record on March 29. The case referred to, Exxon Mobil Corp. v. The City of San Francisco, et al (No. 20-0558), is currently pending before the Texas Supreme Court, which is determining whether to grant review. TCJL filed an amicus curiae brief last October urging the Court to hear the matter.
TCJL: Texas Supreme Court should hear Exxon’s petition over climate change litigation
A group of California cities and counties are waging a legal battle in California state court against ExxonMobil and 17 other Texas-based energy companies. The municipalities allege that the companies are engaging in activities that have caused or are causing an imminent rise in sea levels, and seek billions of dollars in damages from the companies, allegedly to address this risk. Texas courts must now decide whether to allow the companies, under judicial oversight, to inquire into the origins and purposes of the litigation. The Texas Civil Justice League believes that they should allow it.
Make no mistake, this litigation is not really about rising sea levels. In fact, the cities and counties have admitted in public bond offerings that they don’t know whether sea levels will actually rise, and if they do, they have no idea when that might happen. This litigation is about attacking the ability of Texas businesses to conduct lawful operations and participate in an open and robust national and international conversation about energy policy, just as any other citizen has a right to do.
Take, for example, a meeting held at the Rockefeller Family Fund in New York City on January 8, 2016. In this meeting, a Boston-area environmental attorney, Matthew Pawa, revealed plans to recruit cities, counties, and state attorneys general to sue Exxon and other companies in order, among other things, to “create scandal,” “force officials to disassociate themselves from Exxon,” and “establish in the public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution.” How running a bunch of major Texas employers out of business (and gutting the Texas economy to boot) might contribute to a serious and constructive discussion about energy didn’t seem to be on the agenda.
Subsequent to this and other meetings designed to round up eager clients, Pawa and his compatriots forged ahead with their plan to use the California courts to mount a smear campaign with the stated objective of wrecking the Texas energy industry. When the companies responded by filing a motion in a Texas court seeking the right to ask the cities and counties (and their lawyers) about the real reasons for filing the lawsuit, the municipalities told the court that they couldn’t be sued in Texas because their lawsuit didn’t have anything to do with Texas. As you might imagine, neither the trial court nor the court of appeals was amused.
Now the issue is before the Texas Supreme Court, which has the final say over whether the cities and counties can be brought into a Texas court to answer for what they are trying to do. TCJL has long maintained that courts should be used to resolve legitimate disputes, not to pursue political vendettas. Courts should not be weaponized to achieve public policy objectives that should be left to the electoral and legislative processes designed to deal with them. And when governmental bodies in another state go after lawful businesses that not only call Texas home, but contribute billions of dollars of tax revenue to state and local governments, employ tens of thousands of Texans, and support local communities all over the state, they darned better have to go through Texas courts to do it.
George S. Christian
Senior Counsel, Texas Civil Justice League