Fossil Fuel Associations Scramble to Quit Kids Climate Lawsuit Before Discovery Deadline
In an unusual procedural move, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers filed motions Thursday requesting the court's permission to withdraw from the Juliana v. US climate lawsuit, brought by 21 young people. The associations are following the lead of the National Association of Manufacturers, who filed a similar motion to withdraw on May 22.
Now, all three trade association intervenor defendants have filed motions to withdraw from the case, evading last night's discovery deadline. These motions are especially unusual after numerous legal efforts have tried to get a federal court in Oregon to throw out the lawsuit. For any defendant to leave the litigation, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin must grant permission.
Nation's Largest Industrial Trade Association Wants Out of Kids #Climate Lawsuit https://t.co/gKBRom4FIa @billmckibben @NaomiAKlein @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1495544820.0
"API and its members will not come clean on the facts of climate change because they know it exposes them to liability for the damage they too have caused to the global climate system," Julia Olson, co-lead counsel for plaintiffs and executive director of Our Children's Trust, said.
"After these youths sued the government, the trade associations pleaded their members' interests would be destroyed if they weren't allowed to be in the case, but now they are running for the hills. Now, they've decided they're better off being on the sidelines than subjecting themselves to discovery,."
When youth plaintiffs filed their lawsuit in August 2015, only the federal government and government agencies were named as defendants. In November 2015, the associations intervened in the case on the side of the U.S. government defendants, calling the lawsuit a "direct threat to [their] businesses."
"What is noticeably absent from these withdrawal motions is the reason why the fossil fuel industry wants to leave the case," Philip L. Gregory, co-lead counsel for plaintiffs and a party with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP of Burlingame, California, said. "They plead with the court to let them out, yet fail to give Judge Coffin any reason behind their change of heart,"
In a January 2016 proceeding before Judge Coffin, an attorney representing all three trade associations explained how these associations would speak with "one voice" if permitted to join the litigation:
"...having the associations participate as associations in this litigation effectively represents those interests without a multiplicity of disparate viewpoints and voices. Rather, in fact, they have joined to speak with one voice through this intervention motion."
The federal court allowed these fossil fuel industry associations to become full party defendants. However, when these intervenor defendants filed their answer to the allegations in young plaintiffs' complaint, the industry claimed it lacked "sufficient knowledge" to take a position on the science of climate change, and most of the claims in the complaint.
Intervenor defendants since agreed to set forth their positions on the scientific facts by responding to requests for admissions, which Plaintiffs subsequently served on March 24. When the fossil fuel defendants had not submitted their responses, Judge Coffin ordered that they be electronically-filed with the court. At the May 18 case management conference, Judge Coffin granted intervenor defendants an extension to submit their responses until the end of the day, May 25. Rather than take a position on the science or the effects of climate change, the fossil fuel industry chose to seek to back out of the case.
Attorneys for youth plaintiffs have already collected evidence through informal discovery that shows all three associations and their members have had long-standing knowledge of climate danger, and at the same time, used their undue influence over the U.S. government to sabotage efforts to address the urgent problem.
"Our government is a trustee over the atmosphere, and yet the Trump administration is wrongfully colluding with the intervenors to increase carbon emissions," Alex Loznak, 20, of Roseburg, Oregon and one of the youth plaintiffs in the case, said. "These industry groups can't be allowed to interfere with our democracy or our climate system without consequences."
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
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The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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