Weiser Says No To Adding Colorado To Exxon Climate Litigation
Colorado’s Democratic candidate for Attorney General says he would not add the state to a lawsuit targeting Exxon Mobil over climate change, calling the litigation’s reasoning “uncomfortable.”
Phil Weiser, speaking at a Colorado Chamber of Commerce debate Thursday, said the case for the climate change litigation has not been made.
“This is what happens when you do your homework. You ask a basic question like, let me get this straight, our carbon footprint has been reduced by substituting natural gas for coal. How do you sue Exxon for causing climate change?” Weiser responded. “That is a very hard question. I’ve asked it, I haven’t gotten an answer.”
“And so I’m uncomfortable with that litigation because the case for it hasn’t been made,” he added.
Weiser pushed back against suggestions the attorney general’s office under his leadership would be activist in nature.
“I’m not about being an activist one way or the other, I’m about following the facts,” Weiser said. “Protecting people and enforcing our laws the way they’re meant to be enforced.”
Weiser said a Colorado attorney general should be “committed to the rule of law.”
New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood sued Exxon Mobil this week under a state law that allows wide discretion in pursuing potential securities fraud. New York alleges the company committed fraud against its shareholders by downplaying the effects climate change, introducing risk to its investors.
The lawsuit comes after years of investigations by the state of New York initiated by former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Justice Barry G. Ostrager ordered the New York attorney general’s office to end the investigation earlier this year and decide whether the state would pursue charges.
“This cannot go on interminably,” Ostrager said. “It’s not my place to tell you when an investigation ends, but it is my place to put an end date on the requests for information and the filing of a compliant.”
Exxon Mobil had provided millions of pages of documents over the course of the multi-year investigation.
Exxon Mobil lawyer Theodore Wells said the investigation should “put up or shut up” in August. At the time, Underwood’s office claimed it had “smoking gun” evidence.
New York alleges that the company misrepresented potential future costs associated with climate change regulations, including using a price on carbon that differed from what the state charges the company should have assumed. Not using the proxy cost the state suggests should have been used internally, Exxon Mobil avoided revealing “massive” costs and other risks and expenses, the state argued.
A federal court sided with the company earlier this year in a class-action lawsuit brought by current and former employees, who also charged the company with failing to disclose climate change risks. But the court found that, “Plaintiffs do not allege any facts to show why this particular price of carbon was a misrepresentation or did not account for the current or an anticipated regulatory landscape.”
At a May panel in Denver, legal experts called the current run of lawsuits targeting energy companies for climate change impacts as frustrating and costly.
Colorado State Rep. Cole Wist (R-Centennial) argued that assigning fault in climate change litigation would be difficult and pointed to the climate lawsuit filed by three Colorado communities as evidence.
“Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder all consume fossil fuels,” Wist said. “How are we going to quantify what the comparative fault is for Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder in terms of their damages? How would you determine what that fault is?”
In August, documents revealed extensive and “likely unconstitutional” influences exerted within state attorneys’ general’s offices across the country as part of the #ExxonKnew campaign.
Recent evidence points to a growing legal army placed in state attorney general offices underwritten by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The campaign, launched in 2017, runs through the New York University Law School’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, to place “legal fellows” to “provide a supplemental, in-house resource to attorneys general and their senior staffs on clean energy, climate change and environmental matters of regional and national importance.”
Fifteen “special assistant” AGs had been placed in two-year fellowships, according to David Hayes, a former Obama and Clinton administration official who runs the program. The fellows have been placed in six states ranging from New York to New Mexico. The fellows are hired and paid by Bloomberg’s center, not the respective attorneys general who deploy them.
Though Weiser did not decline the use of a Bloomberg fellow if he was elected, he insisted he did not want the office to be subject to outside influences.
“It’s the first time I’ve been asked about people supplementing the office with a Bloomberg fellowship,” Weiser said, adding he did not know the details about the program.
“I’ll tell you one thing. I don’t want anyone telling this office what to do. This office represents the people of Colorado, I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen,” Weiser added.
In a September interview with Western Wire, Weiser’s Republican opponent George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18thJudicial District in Colorado, rejected the notion that any outside group or fellowship would be acceptable in Colorado, calling the notion absurd.
“This is not the right approach. Taxpayers and citizens in general should be comforted by knowing that the attorney general’s office is funded entirely by dollars over which it has some oversight and control and not some third-party group no matter how philanthropic or altruistic,” Brauchler said. “We want to control the power of the state, and the purse strings is probably the first, best way to do that.”