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October 31 2018

High powered legal team for plaintiffs in the Boulder climate lawsuit

by Amy Cooke

There is some serious legal firepower involved in the Boulder climate lawsuit. Clearly, deep-pocketed defendants Exxon Mobile and Suncor will have excellent representation, but so will the plaintiffs. The City and County of Boulder and San Miguel County have an environmental A-Team including the Hannon Law Firm, EarthRights International, and the Niskanen Center.

Kevin Hannon is the plaintiffs’ chief outside legal counsel. He has been litigating lawsuits regarding the environment for more than 20 years and founded the Denver-based firm that bears his name. One of the firm’s specialized areas is environmental harm disputes, and Hannon and his team have prevailed in cases from groundwater contamination to mine waste contamination.

Before opening his firm, Mr. Hannon worked for Public Justice, a D.C. based organization specializing in many areas, one of which is environmental legal activism. It encourages citizen engagement against what they deem are corporate polluters through lawsuits and openly boasts about its victory over Exxon in a Texas case.

Therefore, Kevin Hannon is part of the plaintiffs’ team. He is a former employee of an organization that successfully sued Exxon and according to the Hannon Law Firm website: “the firm has pioneered groundbreaking approaches to protect and compensate its clients in trial courts and appeals courts.”

Further, Hannon has had monetary success in jury trials for environmental cases: “Two of Kevin’s environmental trials, Orjias v. Louisiana-Pacific and Escamilla v. Asarco, each resulted in the largest jury awards in environmental cases in Colorado at the time of verdict.”

As mentioned in a previous post, a jury trial and monetary award are exactly what plaintiffs in the Boulder climate lawsuit are hoping to get.

No surprise either that EarthRights is involved. Its concern over climate change and seeking “justice” for local communities against big corporations fits seamlessly with the lawsuit. The website even suggests corporations aren’t doing their due diligence to sustain and preserve the environment, paralleling the plaintiffs’ complaint against the defendants.

In addition to legal support, Western Wire reports that EarthRights also is handling Boulder’s media relations.

At first blush, the only head scratcher on the plaintiffs’ legal team it the Niskanen Center because of its self-described libertarian “skepticism about the ability of technocratic elites to solve complex economic and social problems,” and the fact that center is named for William Niskanen, a climate change skeptic who endorsed a cautionary approach to any mitigation strategy.

Niskanen believed that because there was insufficient evidence to prove or disprove anthropogenically caused climate change, the United States should not rush into treaties or policy solutions addressing it until scientists discover definitive evidence supporting it. Niskanen’s methodology for addressing climate change was a wait-and-see approach. Before the government considered any reparations, he wanted to see cold hard facts, not speculative theories.

According to some who knew the late William Niskanen, Center president Jerry Taylor violates Niskanen’s memory in order to support his climate-policy activism, and nothing highlights this more than the Center’s role in Boulder climate action lawsuit against ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy.

One Taylor critic Robert Bradley Jr. wrote in a 2015 article “That Taylor is using climate advocacy to fund his new center is a double whammy to Niskanen’s memory. The Niskanen Center should be renamed. And ‘libertarian’ should be taken out of its descriptive and promotional material for so long as climate alarmism/forced energy transformation is atop the masthead.”

David Bookbinder, the Niskanen Center’s chief legal counsel, and co-counsel in the lawsuit, formerly worked as the Sierra Club’s Chief Climate Counsel and has been involved in efforts to pass emission limiting legislation and regulations.   

Bookbinder claims the Center’s involvement is about protecting property rights, but that statement seems a bit disingenuous considering the financial company it keeps and Bookbinder’s own statement.

The Center’s list of funders reads like a Who’s Who of climate change, anti-fossil fuel philanthropies including the Energy Foundation, William and Flora Hewitt Foundation, the Rockefellar Brothers Fund, and the Democracy Fund, which explains, in part, Bookbinder’s clumsy contradiction of the Center’s previous statement that its involvement has nothing to do with climate change activism. In a post for The Federalist Society, Bookbinder wrote:

“The conduct at issue in the climate nuisance cases is that fossil fuel companies manufactured and sold their products knowing that when used as intended, they would disrupt the Earth’s climate system and then require wide-scale adaptation to the changed climate.”

The Niskanen Center and EarthRights are providing services pro bono. However, Hannon’s payment is based on a contingent fee agreement, so if the plaintiffs win, Hannon will receive 20 percent of the gross amount recovered. Should the plaintiffs lose, taxpayers in Boulder and San Miguel could be on the hook for legal fees if the plaintiffs are ordered to pay defendants’ Suncor and Exxon Mobile’s legal fees. 

No question that Boulder and company enjoy top-notch legal representation. The unanswered question is how long were they planning this suit while being coy with media and taxpayers?



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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