By Jason Mark
Can any one group of actors be held responsible for the damages caused by global climate change?
That was the central question argued in federal court on Thursday as attorneys representing San Francisco and Oakland tried to beat back efforts by ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell to have a judge throw out a potentially groundbreaking climate change related lawsuit.
King County, which covers the Seattle metropolitan area, followed the lead of 10 other cities and counties in the U.S. when it filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the world's five largest oil companies for damages incurred by climate change, a county press release announced.
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First, the five companies in question—Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell—filed a motion Tuesday to dismiss the case, arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had dismissed similar cases in the past because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, not private companies, is responsible for setting and enforcing carbon dioxide levels, Forbes reported.
If you turn on the news, you might think that climate science has been on trial for decades. But now a San Francisco judge will give it an official day in court.
U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup, who is hearing a suit brought by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco against five big oil corporations, ordered a historic tutorial in which both parties will have a chance to present their view of the science behind climate change, the McClatchy Washington Bureau reported March 7.
New York City's iconic Empire State Building glowed green Wednesday night following two "watershed" announcements—that the city would seek to divest its pension funds from fossil fuel investments, and that it filed suit against five oil giants for contributing to climate change.
"The Empire State Building is shining green tonight because it's time to put our planet first. #DivestNY," Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted Wednesday.
By Steve Horn
Geoengineering, hailed in some circles as a potential techno-fix to the climate change crisis, has taken a step closer to going mainstream.
The U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a rare joint subcommittee hearing on Nov. 8, only the second ever congressional hearing of its kind on the topic (the first was held in 2009). The committee invited expert witnesses to discuss the status of geoengineering research and development. Geoengineering is a broad term encompassing sophisticated scientific techniques meant to reverse the impacts of climate change or pull greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.
San Francisco Becomes First Major U.S. City to Sue Fossil Fuel Industry Over Costs of Climate Change
The two Californian cities join the counties of Marin, San Mateo and San Diego and the city of Imperial Beach that have taken similar legal action in recent months, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
By Steve Horn
A recent DeSmogBlog investigation reveals that Robert Bauer, former White House Counsel and President Obama's personal attorney, works at the corporate law firm Perkins Coie LLP, which does legal work for TransCanada's South Central Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Project, formerly known as Alaska Gas Pipeline Project.
Furthermore, Dan Sullivan, current Commissioner of Alaska's Department of Natural Resources, and former Alaska Attorney General and former Assistant Secretary of State in the Bush Administration, is also a former Perkins attorney.
These findings come in the immediate aftermath of a recent investigation revealing the contractor hired by Obama's U.S. State Department to do the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline—Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group) —lied on its June 2012 conflict-of interest filing. ERM Group checked the box on the form saying it had no current business ties to TransCanada.
In fact, ERM—a member of the American Petroleum Institute, which has spent more than $22 million lobbying on tar sands and Keystone XL since 2008—does maintain business ties to TransCanada, the investigation revealed. This includes an ongoing consulting relationship with South Central LNG, co-owned by TransCanada, ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips.
Under 18 U.S.C. § 1001, making a "materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation...[to the] executive, legislative or judicial branch of the Government of the U.S." is a crime punishable by up to five years in jail.
On top of his job at Perkins Coie, Bauer—a well-known architect of bending campaign finance law to allow more corporate money to flood into electoral races—served as general counsel to President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. He also serves as general counsel to the Democratic National Committee and did electoral law work for John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.
His wife, Anita Dunn is the co-owner of SDKnickerbocker, and former Obama Communications Director, was senior advisor for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign and is the former communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under then-Senator Kerry. She's met with top Obama administration officials more than 100 times since leaving in 2009, according to a recent New York Times investigation.
Dunn currently does public relations work on behalf of TransCanada and freight rail industry lobbying group, American Association of Railroads. The tar sands pipeline boom comes alongside a freight rail boom to carry tar sands crude and fracked oil from North Dakota's Bakken Shale.
“ERM lied on its conflict of interest disclosure form, and State was either asleep at the wheel or chose to look the other way,” Friends Of the Earth's Ross Hammond told The Washington Post in a recent piece commenting on ERM's "Pinocchio moment."
Given the myriad ties that bind, "looking the other way" appears more plausible.
Perkins Coie's Legal Bidding for Democrats, TransCanada Alaska Gas Pipeline Project
Perkins Coie is a global firm with 19 offices worldwide and maintains close ties to the Democratic Party above and beyond Bob Bauer. Bauer's colleague Mark Ellis, for example, does legal work on behalf of the "Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Governors Associations and numerous U.S. senators and representatives and their campaigns," according to his Perkins Coie biography.
The Oil and Gas legal work portion of Perkins' website highlights its legal work in Alaska, "in Alaska, our lawyers have long represented leading oil and gas companies on the North Slope and the Cook Inlet...We are extensively involved in efforts to develop the Point Thomson field and commercialize Alaska's natural gas resources with a pipeline to Lower 48 markets."
The "efforts to...commercialize Alaska's natural gas resources with a pipeline to Lower 48 markets" that Perkins' website refers to is the South Central LNG Project co-owned by TransCanada.
"The project is designed to connect Alaska's North Slope natural gas resources to new markets and deliver a reliable and secure source of clean burning energy for decades to come," explain TransCanada and ExxonMobil on the original Alaska Gas Pipeline Project website. "TransCanada and ExxonMobil have the expertise, experience and financial capability to develop what would be one of the largest privately funded energy projects in the history of North America."
Before providing legal aide to South Central LNG, Perkins helped the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS)—co-owned by Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, BP, ConocoPhillips and Chevron and often referred to as the Alyeska Pipeline—get up and running. TAPS takes oil from the Alaska North Slope to the Valdez Marine Terminal, home of the Exxon Valdez spill.
Perkins' legal aide, in fact, made TAPS a reality according to an interview appearing online with Perkins' veteran attorney Guy Martin. Martin was instrumental in opening Perkins' office focusing on Alaska in Washington DC.
"I actually took a little, first-floor townhouse on Capitol Hill, and opened what was really a two-or three-person office. It was the first state office, and we worked pretty much exclusively on the pipeline," said Martin. "The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Act was passed as the direct result of the passing of the Settlement Act."
Perkins Coie attorney L. John Iani—former Region 10 (which includes Alaska) Environmental Protection Agency administrator from 2001-2004 under President George W. Bush—also formerly lobbied for the Alaska Gas Pipeline Project working for TransCanada from 2005-2008, Congressional lobbying disclosure records show. He did so while working for Van Ness Feldman from 2004-2010, a firm that today lobbies on behalf of TransCanada's Keystone XL.
Perkins still does legal work on behalf of TAPS and defended it in the 2010 case Alyeska Pipeline Service Company v. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Alaska Department of Natural Resources Run by Former Perkins Attorney
Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Commissioner Dan Sullivan formerly worked at Perkins Coie from 1996-2006. His task as head of Alaska's DNR, by law, is to serve as an oil and gas industry watchdog. As such, he will aid in overseeing whether South Central LNG becomes a reality. Sullivan—it's important to remember—was named Attorney General by former Alaska Republican Gov. Sarah Palin of "drill baby, drill" fame in June 2009.
Prior to his appointment as Attorney General, Dan Sullivan served as Assistant Secretary of State during the Bush administration, reporting to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Sullivan's full title was Assistant Secretary for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs.
Wikileaks diplomatic cables reveal that while at the State Department, Sullivan helped negotiate oil and gas deals with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and France.
It was also under Bush and during Sullivan's time at the State Department that the original TransCanada Keystone tar sands pipeline was approved in March 2008. Three months later, in June 2008, TransCanada proposed Keystone XL to the State Department.
In March 2012, President Obama issued an Executive Order to expedite the building of Keystone XL's southern half from Cushing, OK to Port Arthur, TX. It is the northern, border-crossing half whose final destiny is now in the hands of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
"Americans Know a Rat When They Smell One"
Anita Dunn will likely be working overtime in the coming weeks and months using her insider/outsider status to ensure its approval on behalf of the client she shares with her husband's law firm, TransCanada.
"Only in the ethically-challenged world of K Street lobbyists could it be considered OK for a power couple like Dunn & Bauer to exploit their White House connections to promote the interests of a foreign corporation like TransCanada," Hammond told DeSmogBlog in an interview.
"Beltway insiders may yawn at the fact that TransCanada has hired people so close to President Obama and Secretary Kerry to push their dirty and dangerous pipeline, but ordinary Americans know a rat when they smell one."