Forget the campaign trail and Congress. The real debate on climate change is happening in the courtrooms.
The big picture: With federal policy gridlocked, advocates are pushing an ever-growing list of long-shot lawsuits blaming big oil companies and the government for the planet’s hot mess.
Why it matters: Lawsuits are one key piece of the puzzle to getting big change on energy and climate policy. Even if advocates don’t win in court, they still draw media attention and put pressure on their targets.
- The more pressure grows, and if a ruling in advocates’ favor emerges as a possibility, the more likely corporations and/or the government would support policy addressing the matter.
Driving the news: Numerous cases are piling up that rest on various legal theories. Let's touch on three timely developments, and read my full column for more details.
- A ruling is expected next month on a closely watched fraud lawsuit from the New York attorney general alleging ExxonMobil misled investors on its handling of climate-change costs. The Massachusetts AG just filed a similar lawsuit.
- Several lawsuits blaming a handful of big oil companies for rising temperatures are moving forward in courts across the country.
- After hearing oral arguments in June, a three-judge federal panel has yet to rule on a high-profile case where children are alleging the government failed them on climate change.
These three developments represent the latest round in what has been years' worth of climate litigation. Indeed, despite all this effort, climate advocates have not actually succeeded (yet) in legally pinning the blame on, well, anyone, including oil companies and the government.
“There are plenty of procedural pitfalls that these cases still have to navigate. That having been said, there are a diverse set of legal theories currently being tested in a variety of jurisdictions, so there is some reasonable chance that one or more will ultimately survive.” — Michael Livermore, a University of Virginia law school professor who is not involved in the lawsuits.
What I'm watching: How these legal fights come up on the campaign trail. At least two Democratic presidential candidates, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have said they would pursue legal battles against big oil companies under similar arguments.