On Tuesday, Anne Arundel County, Maryland became the latest municipality to file a public nuisance climate change lawsuit against energy companies and a trade association representing the industry.
While the county’s decision to file a lawsuit is unsurprising – as Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman announced back in February that the county was “considering” a lawsuit – what is surprising is how bold activist groups were in coordinating with both Anne Arundel County and Annapolis, MD officials to bring a lawsuit in both municipalities.
Published emails show that a local activist group, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), along with the Rockefeller-funded Center for Climate Integrity (CCI), engaged with both Maryland municipalities to file climate litigation targeting the energy industry.
In fact, CCI and CCAN went as far as recommending to these municipalities that they use Sher Edling as outside counsel, which both have done.
These efforts by CCAN and CCI to push litigation underscore just how coordinated the climate litigation campaign is by anti-energy activists and plaintiffs’ attorneys.
CCI and CCAN Bring Climate Litigation to Maryland
Documents uncovered through Maryland state public records requests, made by transparency nonprofit Energy Policy Advocates, show that CCAN and CCI staff worked together to bring climate litigation to Anne Arundel County late last year.
In an email to an Annapolis city official in September 2020, a CCAN employee wrote that:
“CCAN, in collaboration with the Center for Climate Integrity is very interested in facilitating lawsuits for cities in Maryland against fossil fuel companies for the ongoing damages brought on by climate change.”
Later in October 2020, the same CCAN employee connected the CCI’s legal director, Alyssa Johl, with that Annapolis city employee, writing to Johl:
“I’m working on getting a meeting with you and Mayor Buckley of Annapolis. It seems the best way to broach the subject with the Mayor is for key players in the Administration to be on board. As I indicated, I think there is a good chance that Annapolis will file a suit as long as it does not cost too much in time and money.”
It seems that meeting took place, as the CCAN employee uses it as a hook in email outreach to an Anne Arundel County employee in November 2020 to gauge if the municipality would be interested in partnering with Annapolis to bring a climate lawsuit against the energy industry:
“Recently the Chesapeake Climate Action Network met with Mayor Buckley and his executive staff to discuss whether it is viable for the City of Annapolis to sue the major fossil companies in an effort to make the most egregious polluters pay for the costs of climate change adaptations – rather than the taxpayer. Mayor Buckley expressed keen interest and suggested we reach out to the County Executive to see if the County and City could work together on this venture.”
While a meeting between CCAN, Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, and CCI did occur in December 2020, the Maryland county decided not to join Annapolis when it filed its climate lawsuit in February, and instead waited two months to file their own case – despite it already being planned.
In the interim, CCAN seems to have stayed close with Anne Arundel throughout its planning stages as the organization’s executive director, Mike Tidwell, that was even quoted in the county’s press release announcing the case.
A New Strategy For CCI?
CCI’s role in spurring climate litigation in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County mirrored the organization’s efforts in the lead-up to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filing a climate lawsuit against energy companies in September 2020.
There, CCI initially approached a local environmental group, Fresh Energy, with the idea of the state filing a climate lawsuit, rather than meeting directly with the public officials themselves. Sound familiar?
During a webinar in July, Fresh Energy Executive Director Michael Noble thanked CCI for its leadership in climate litigation and credited them with introducing Fresh Energy to these lawsuits:
“I want to first just acknowledge that [Center for Climate Integrity] is a national organization that leads on this kind of climate liability, climate litigation. And they brought this concept to Fresh Energy in the fall of 2018, and Fresh Energy helped put this idea in front of Attorney General Keith Ellison shortly after he was sworn in.”
Public records requests made by Energy Policy Advocates in Minnesota later revealed that CCI hired a University of Minnesota law professor to draft a legal memo explaining how a potential climate lawsuit could be structured, but relied on Fresh Energy, the local environmental group, to present this document to Attorney General Ellison.
According to the Maryland public records and commentary from city officials, a similar series of events occurred in the lead-up to Annapolis filing its own climate lawsuit.
“I also received information from my contacts, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, who is busy with pushing towards energy efficiency and clean fuels. They asked me if I knew about these lawsuits and how they were progressing and I had some knowledge, and they thankfully provided me with some additional knowledge.
Now, we’ve seen almost the exact same arrangement – with CCAN, CCI, and Sher Edling – unfold in Anne Arundel County.
These similarities between how climate litigation came to Minnesota and Maryland point to a new strategy from CCI.
Instead of directly pushing climate litigation at the local level through national efforts, CCI seems to have turned its focus toward partnering with local environmental activist groups in jurisdictions they view as potential plaintiffs, who in turn engage with local officials.
By turning to local partners, CCI is able to capitalize on any pre-existing ties local players have with the municipality or state officials.
Notably, by adding an extra layer, the group is able to mask the fact that climate litigation is a vast, well-funded, national campaign—not a widespread grassroots effort as some might lead others to believe.
Another Waste of Taxpayer-Funded Time and Resources
Climate litigation has so far failed to deliver a penny of the millions of dollars in damages government officials claim to be seeking, and Anne Arundel’s lawsuit is yet another case with no guarantee of success.
Like the other municipalities and states that have filed similar lawsuits, Anne Arundel County would better serve its residents by focusing its taxpayer-funded time and resources on real climate solutions that would actually address the impacts of climate change, rather than investing in frivolous litigation that has little chance of success.
Read more at EID Climate
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