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How Billionaire-Backed Foundations Turn Leftist Judges into Climate Crusaders
But you won’t hear about it from the same press preoccupied with conservative judges’ alleged “conflicts”
Years of rising consumer prices have left the broad middle class unable to afford groceries and gas, much less homes or cars, but they haven’t slowed down climate maximalists from pushing their costly agenda.
The activists do, however, seem to have learned that the democratic process hasn’t been as effective as they may have hoped at transitioning the world to unstable solar and wind power. So they have turned, increasingly, to pushing their unpopular climate policies through the courts. And the well-funded NGOs running this legal scheme aren’t just filing lawsuits.
New research by Firebreak shows they are also corralling the judges who will preside over these cases into a kind of “climate crisis” training camp, designed explicitly to drive judicial analysis and outcomes.
Even as the press complains about conservative judges delivering sponsored lectures and book readings, left-wing advocacy groups funded by major foundations are hosting elaborate junkets for sitting judges and instructing them on how to rule from the bench.
The anatomy of a legal scandal
As we reported in August, US cities and counties—bankrolled by wealthy benefactors like Mike Bloomberg—have filed dozens of lawsuits against oil companies demanding they pay massive sums for causing global warming. In one case, an Oregon county has absurdly demanded over $50 billion to cover its climate mitigation efforts. It’s a bold legal strategy, though there’s no more guarantee of success in court than there is at the ballot box. At least one federal court has already repudiated the “public nuisance” rationale advanced in these cases.
In order to boost their chances of success, environmental NGOs are filing suit in state courts and trying to propagandize the judges who will adjudicate the litigation. This effort to manipulate the judiciary is led by an obscure nonprofit called the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), which operates the Climate Judiciary Project (CJP). ELI bills the CJP as a program that disseminates “neutral, objective information to the judiciary about the science of climate change.” But even a cursory review of the program reveals its true purpose.
Plaintiffs “educating” judges
The first clue to ELI’s ideological intentions comes from the Climate Judiciary Project (CJP) itself. The program’s website boasts that “CJP experts are recognized leaders in the fields of climate science and law research, scholarship, and education.” Buried at the bottom of the page, however, is a striking disclaimer:
“Experts for this project are selected based on their expertise on the relevant subject. As of the time we invited them to participate in CJP, we were not aware that any were parties or served as council to parties in litigation related to the topics covered by this curriculum [our emphasis].”
The disclaimer raises an obvious ethical problem. Tort lawyers who sue oil companies for a living won’t give judges a “neutral, objective” assessment of climate science and policy. ELI may have acknowledged that its invited experts have a massive conflict of interest, but they should have just recruited instructors that aren’t so conflicted.
And that takes us to the root of the problem: ELI is working on behalf of the activist groups and law firms leading this legal crusade against the energy industry. This is readily apparent since they share key personnel and take money from the same ideological donors.
For example, University of Southern California law professor Robin Craig is a CJP expert; she’s also “served as a consultant to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF),” according to her USC faculty page. EDF has been involved in multiple lawsuits against the oil and gas industry over the last three years, and EDF general counsel Vickie Patton sits on ELI’s board of directors. Patton hasn’t been shy about EDF’s position on fossil fuels. Americans fighting the EPA’s unprecedented, ever-expanding energy regulations are “climate deniers” trying to “obstruct progress,” she said in a January 2023 press release.
ELI has also recruited Hawaii Supreme Court chief Justice Mark Recktenwald to lead one of CJP’s seminars on rising sea levels—while he presides over a lawsuit brought by the city of Honolulu against several energy companies. Sher Edling, the firm representing Honolulu, has received funding from the same progressive foundations that support ELI and other environmental NGOs, including EDF.
ELI visiting attorney Scott Badenoch has helped draft “Model Laws for Deep Decarbonization in the United States,” published by Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. Sher Edling attorney Michael Burger is executive director of the Sabin Center. All this adds up to a pack of foxes volunteering to guard the henhouse.
The bigger picture
Although ELI’s efforts are troubling, they should be recognized as part of a much larger and more alarming strategy to “tobacconize” the energy sector: to mimic the anti-smoking movement’s attack on cigarette companies in the 1990s. The brainchild of climate activist Naomi Oreskes, a key component of the plan is to relentlessly sue oil companies for the effects of climate change “until they either go out of business or change the way they operate,” as Firebreak editor David Zaruk put it. We’re watching the plan unfold in real time as Sher Edling litigates climate suits in 22 cities across the US, with Oreskes on retainer as a consultant.
This is all happening despite the opinion of ordinary Americans, the vast majority of whom are more concerned about paying their mortgages than cutting CO2 emissions. Recent polls indicate that only 25 percent of the public views global warming as “extremely personally important” while 60 percent say the economy is the most critical issue facing the US, followed by health care and immigration.
Environmentalists have tried to shame voters into accepting that no “issue is more important than global warming,” but to no avail. With far more pressing concerns on the horizon, “Americans don’t care about climate change,” LA Times contributor Nicholas Goldberg lamented last year.
The bottom line? This legal crusade isn’t about protecting people or the planet, as Sher Edling claims. It’s an ideological scheme meant to change how we consume energy. Americans have rejected the anti-capitalist blitz to eliminate fossil fuels. Oreskes and her allies are trying to take them anyway.
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