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May 10 2018

Texas Judge Finds Climate-Change Lawsuits Potentially Improper

by Erin Hawley

On April 24th, a Texas judge laid bare one of the more troubling facets of the recent spate of climate-change cases brought by left-leaning coastal cities and counties. Judge Wallace’s order suggests that the lawsuits may have been improperly brought to “obtain leverage,” “get[] discovery,” and “creat[e] scandal.”

The smoking gun: the municipalities’ complaints allege impending disaster due to climate-change caused sea level rise and flooding—but their bond offerings either fail specifically to mention climate-change risks or state that the municipalities are “unable to predict” whether sea-level rise or “other impacts” of climate change will occur. (All of this is rather rich coming from municipalities whose chief complaint is that Exxon and other energy companies were not forthcoming about climate change.)

As Judge Wallace pointed out, the allegations made in court and the representations made to bond holders cannot both be accurate.  The Judge’s order notes the startling conflict between the municipalities’ climate change complaints and their bond offerings:

  • Oakland and San Francisco’s complaints claim that energy company “conduct will continue to cause ongoing and increasingly severe sea level rise harms.”
    • Meanwhile, the cities’ municipal bonds state that the cities are “unable to predict” whether sea-level rise “or other impacts of climate change” will occur.
  • San Mateo’s complaint alleges the county is “particularly vulnerable to sea level rise,” with “a 93% chance that the County experiences a devastating threefoot flood before the year 2050, and a 50% chance that such a flood occurs before 2030.”
    • Meanwhile, the 2014 and 2016 bond offerings told investors that “[t]he County is unable to predict whether sea-level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm will occur.”
  • Imperial Beach alleges that it is vulnerable to “significant, and dangerous sea level rise” due to “unabated greenhouse gas emissions.”
    • Meanwhile, its bond offering is silent on the issue.
  • Marin County complaint alleges that “there is a 99% risk that the County experiences a devastating three-foot flood before the year 2050” and asserts that “[w]ithin the next 15 years, the County’s Bayadjacent coast will endure multiple, significant impacts from sea level rise.”
    • Meanwhile, its bond offerings do not contain any specific reference to climate change risks.

The failure of the municipalities to disclose to bond holders the supposed imminent effects of climate change lends credence to Exxon’s argument that the lawsuits were filed in bad-faith, Judge Wallace found. And the Judge found sufficient contacts with the state of Texas to proceed with Exxon’s efforts to depose various California officials (and their lawyer). Stay tuned to see how the municipalities attempt to explain away the inconsistencies.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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