Rhode Island Climate Lawsuit Was Always About the Money

Rhode Island Climate Lawsuit Was Always About the Money
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Revealing the clandestine interactions between environmental activists and left-leaning state officials who are promoting climate change lawsuits is a challenge, but a clear, disturbing picture has emerged regarding climate litigation filed in Rhode Island. Make no mistake; leftist politicians in Rhode Island who are suing energy companies are only in it for the money.

As way of background, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin initiated a lawsuit using the legally dubious “public nuisance” statute against just 14 energy producers in 2018, holding them alone financially responsible for “climate change” and for related damages not only alleged to have occurred, but for damages that may or may not be sustained at some point in the future. Never mind that the state itself is a major direct emitter of greenhouse gases through its state buildings, fleet of vehicles, and public works projects.

Using a Narragansett sea wall as a backdrop for his photo-op announcement of the lawsuit, Kilmartin spared no rhetoric vilifying “Big Oil” for supposedly “concealing the dangers” of global warming to promote their “ever-increasing revenues in their pockets.” But thanks to some astonishingly candid remarks made by a high-ranking state official, we now know this had little to do with sea walls, ocean levels or climate, and everything to do with revenue – lots of it – for the small state with an enormous budget deficit

Director of Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management Janet Coit bluntly admitted that her state was “looking for (as) sustainable funding stream.” This startling confession was made at a July conference sponsored by The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, backers of the “climate change” shakedown effort from the beginning, according to notes from two different sources attending.

The damning notes were obtained by the watchdog group Energy Policy Advocates and submitted within a memo in March accompanying an Amicus brief filed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The organization supports the argument that federal court is the proper venue for hearing the case rather than an activist state court and argues that the suit should be dismissed.

Coit conceded that efforts to get the publicly elected General Assembly of the cash-strapped state to fund global warming-related projects had failed, according to the typed and handwritten notes obtained under a state open records law.

The apparent answer was to circumvent the appropriate legislative channels and seek “jackpot justice” through lawsuit abuse. In suing oil and gas companies, Rhode Island hopes to score a windfall of multiple billions of dollars – a “sustainable funding stream” indeed. The trial lawyers who shopped this lawsuit to Rhode Island and a number of financially troubled states and cities across the country on a contingency basis stand to cash in on millions, if not billions.

Ultimately, lawsuits employing the public nuisance tactic typically fall apart up in appeals process. And for all practical purposes, the Rhode Island lawsuit was rendered moot even before it start because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 8-0 ruling in the 2011 American Electric Power v. Connecticut case. The Court found that the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress alone retain the rightful regulatory authority on matters concerning greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. That determination precludes entities such as Rhode Island from usurping executive and legislative prerogative in suing private corporations for purported global warming impacts.

Cookie-cutter lawsuits by New York City and San Francisco/Oakland ran into that same jurisdictional brick wall when federal judges dismissed their cash-grab attempts in 2018. There can be little doubt as to the outcome of Rhode Island’s bid to shakedown oil and gas companies. The only question is how much the companies will have to spend defending themselves, and how much of Rhode Island citizens’ resources will be wasted.

Craig Richardson is president of the Energy and Environment Legal Institute.

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