ExxonMobil Accused of Pressuring Witnesses in Climate Fraud Case
By Jessica Corbett
New York state prosecutors last week accused ExxonMobil of trying to discourage witnesses from testifying against the company in a climate fraud case, leading the head of the environmental group 350.org to declare Thursday that "we won't be intimidated."
In a statement, May Boeve, the avocacy group's executive director, also charged that "Exxon is polluting these proceedings just like it has polluted our communities."
Last October, following a three-year probe and amid growing demands that the dirty energy industry be held accountable for the impacts of its products, then-New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood sued ExxonMobil for defrauding investors about the financial threat of efforts to combat the climate emergency.
Boeve's statement came in response to allegations from the current state attorney general's office Friday that the fossil fuel giant is attempting to intimidate third-party witnesses by demanding they disclose all contact they have had with various experts and environmental groups, including 350.org.
ExxonMobil is after us again. @NewYorkStateAG is currently suing them for fraud.— 350 dot org (@350) August 8, 2019
Now, ExxonMobil is attempting to intimidate witnesses from testifying by making them disclose all contact they’ve had with 350. #exxonknew #MakeThemPayhttps://t.co/Artfvfev8z
InsideClimate News — which exposed ExxonMobil's decades of climate deception with a damning investigative series in 2015 — reported on the allegations Tuesday:
New court filings reveal that Exxon sent letters to a group of investment advisers and shareholder activists who prosecutors want to put on the stand, informing them they will be subject to subpoenas from the company seeking documents relevant to the case if they choose to testify.
Because of their roles investing in and engaging with Exxon over climate change, these witnesses' testimony could prove critical to the state's case.
With opening statements scheduled to begin Oct. 23, a lawyer in New York Attorney General Letitia James's office wrote that the request would "impose disproportionate burdens on these witnesses in a transparent attempt to discourage them from testifying voluntarily, and threatening to upend the trial schedule."
The attorney general's office has asked Justice Barry Ostrager of New York Supreme Court to order Exxon to halt its requests for documents.
Aaron Caplan, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and expert in legal ethics, told the outlet that Exxon's letter "tiptoes right up to the line of impropriety ... And whether it crosses that line is up to interpretation."
Climate Liability News, which also reported on the filings from James's office Tuesday, spoke to one expert who characterized Exxon's move as part of a broader legal strategy.
Yale law professor Douglas A. Kysar, who is not involved in the suit, said the document request feeds into Exxon's narrative of an "anti-carbon conspiracy" involving liberal academics, foundations, non-governmental organizations, and plaintiffs' lawyers. The request includes "all communications concerning ExxonMobil between you and Matthew Pawa, Peter Frumhoff, Naomi Oreskes, Geoffrey Supran, the Rockefeller Family Foundation, Sharon Eubanks, Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, Richard Heede, Sher Edling, LLP, 350.org, or the Union of Concerned Scientists."
"The third party witnesses won't necessarily take this request literally as a threat by Exxon — but they will have to consider the vast expense and inconvenience that would follow from being dragged into the 'anti-carbon conspiracy' narrative," Kysar said.
"The line between 'normal legal maneuvering' and 'intimidation-style tactics' is a fine one that is almost always pushed by litigants in high-stakes battles like this one," added Kysar. "Still, the timing and the breadth of the document request by Exxon's lawyers raises even my cynical eyebrows."
350.org's Boeve wrote in an email to supporters Thursday that it is "clear" that "ExxonMobil executives are scared of the power of our movement and the strength of our numbers."
"This could be the greatest case of corporate fraud in history," she noted. "This lawsuit is a huge opportunity to set a precedent around the world for holding fossil fuel executives accountable and making them pay for a just transition to a 100 percent renewable energy economy."
In her statement, Boeve thanked James "for her vigilance in standing up for our communities" and vowed that Exxon's legal maneuvers won't deter the movement to make polluters pay for fueling the global climate emergency.
"As communities bear the costs of Exxon's lies, millions of people led by youth, frontline communities, workers, and more are mobilizing towards the September 20 climate strikes to build a world that works for all of us," said Boeve. "Together, all of us will hold accountable fossil fuel executives most responsible for the climate crisis, and make them pay for their climate destruction."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
Typhoon Molave is expected to make landfall in Vietnam on Wednesday with 90 mph winds and heavy rainfall that could lead to flooding and landslides, according to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. To prepare for the powerful storm that already tore through the Philippines, Vietnam is making plans to evacuate nearly 1.3 million people along the central coast, as Reuters reported.
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A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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