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The Supreme Court’s Obscure Procedural Ruling in Baltimore’s Climate Case, Explained

The Supreme Court’s Obscure Procedural Ruling in Baltimore’s Climate Case, Explained

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on an important case about whether major oil and gas companies should be held accountable for engaging in a systematic marketing campaign to deceive the public about the catastrophic threat that fossil fuel products pose to the planet. 

The Court didn’t consider the merits of the case but rather answered an obscure procedural question in a way that permits the defendants to continue to delay litigation in state court, and thereby also serves to deny the public essential information about the fossil fuel industry’s attempt to spread disinformation about its products’ role in fueling the climate crisis.

In the case, Baltimore alleges that the companies used deceptive marketing tactics to hide the danger of fossil fuel products in order to preserve their massive profit streams, in violation of state tort and statutory law. Baltimore argues that these companies should thus help pay for the city’s efforts to respond to sea level rise, increased flooding, extreme heat, and other dangers to the city’s residents and infrastructure caused by the climate crisis. Numerous other cities, counties, and states have filed similar cases.

“The only question before us is one of civil procedure,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the opening of the majority opinion. His qualification may seem odd, as the fossil fuel companies based their petition for review on a question of civil procedure. To understand the thinking behind it, it helps to understand the industry’s litigation strategy in these cases.

Litigation strategy

Instead of defending the local governments’ state law claims on the merits, the oil and gas companies have sought to shift the cases from state to federal court, where they believe they are more likely to succeed. All but one federal district court has rejected their jurisdictional arguments, remanding the …

read more
Climate Guilt, Brought to you by Big Oil

Climate Guilt, Brought to you by Big Oil

A new study from Harvard science historians Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran points to the use of language targeted specifically to downplay the reality of climate change and shift responsibility for the problem entirely onto consumers. Geoffrey Supran, the lead...

read more
Climate Accountability Is a Solution—Why Isn’t It Treated Like One?

Climate Accountability Is a Solution—Why Isn’t It Treated Like One?

What can we do about climate change? Which policies will work? Which technologies? What can individuals do, and what sort of collective action should they support? The appeal of “solutions journalism” addressing climate change is undeniable, but there is a large hole in much of it: understanding the root causes of the problem. 

Catastrophic climate change is a symptom of an intertwined web of problems. Untangling that web and the various forces that created it is not just a worthy exercise, it’s absolutely critical to developing solutions that actually work. The focus on technological and policy solutions to climate has put the cart before the horse, and in doing so, created a solutions framework that is hopelessly inadequate. Americans in particular have a tendency to skip right over accountability and straight to solutions, but failing to understand how a problem came about in the first place tends to deliver…not solutions, but new problems. And on climate, examples of that abound. 

People talk about “the energy transition” as an aspirational, future phase, for example, which ignores the fact that we’ve just spent the past 20 years living through an energy transition, one that required major investments in infrastructure, a new distribution system, all of that. The conversion of U.S. energy sources from coal to natural gas was a massive transition, on par with the transition currently being proposed from fossil fuels to renewables. But we don’t often talk about it that way, which means we miss key lessons from that transition: simply swapping in one energy source for another, focusing on only one greenhouse gas, and allowing the fossil fuel industry to drive and manage that transition were all enormous missteps. In the past five years, study after study has come out revealing under-explored impacts of natural gas, from the global

read more
The Radioactive Underbelly of the Oilfield

The Radioactive Underbelly of the Oilfield

In towns and cities across northern Appalachia industrial and manufacturing jobs have emptied out and men and women hungry for work have been drawn by the beckoning call of the oil and gas industry. Over the past decade that industry has tapped vigorously into the Marcellus and Utica, two massively rich gas layers that underlie the region. But these workers don’t always end up drilling for oil and pulling pipe, wellhead jobs stamped with a certain gritty glamour upon the American imagination. They often end up at a far seedier and even less regulated end of the oilfield, working in the largely unknown underworld of radioactive oilfield waste. Scooping it up and hauling it hither and thither in trucks. 

It was just about ten years ago that drillers—many of them from prominent oilfield states like Texas and Oklahoma—first descended upon eastern Ohio to tap the Utica and Marcellus, opening up an unknown yet lucrative new world for Tom McKnight, who had a wife in healthcare and three college-age kids to help support.

“I was selling John Deere tractors, then I got fired at John Deere and went to work selling used cars,” says McKnight. “Meanwhile I am looking at these hillbillies in cowboy boots and cowboy hats coming in with these big-ass pay stubs and buying these expensive trucks. And I am thinking, I want one of those big-ass checks.”

Tom McKnight, during his years as a brine hauler.

While out for a ride with his wife on a Sunday afternoon in 2013 the couple drove through the parking lot of one oil and gas waste management company and McKnight happened to encounter the general manager. Next thing he knew he was seated in the man’s office for an interview. “No phone calls, no introductions, no points of reference, no …

read more
Gulf Coast Oil Workers Are Building America’s Offshore Wind Industry

Gulf Coast Oil Workers Are Building America’s Offshore Wind Industry

“The biggest misconception about transitioning from offshore drilling to offshore wind is the idea that oil platforms can be reused to hold wind turbines,” Louisiana state Representative Joseph Orgeron said in a recent phone interview. Offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico weren’t designed to handle that sort of load. The weight distribution of an offshore wind turbine is like trying to mount a “pumpkin on a pole,” Orgeron said. 

To function, the vertical base needs to be stout enough to handle the movement of the blades spinning and the face rotating directions with the wind. 

But while offshore drilling platforms don’t quite work as offshore wind platforms, what can be repurposed are the workers and building techniques that have supported offshore oil drilling. A single offshore wind farm could employ more than 4,000 people during construction and 150 people long-term, according to a 2020 analysis by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Rep. Orgeron didn’t start out considering the engineering difficulties of renewable energy. He grew up in the bayous of Louisiana, the homebase for his family’s business of offshore oilfield service vessels. When the oil work started to dry up, he realized that offshore wind could help his family’s company, Montco Offshore Inc, stay afloat. 

“I was fully enamored by offshore wind,” he said. “They’ll need offshore energy production expertise to do those buildouts. The people of South Louisiana would be prime to facilitate that.”

Montco was one of several Louisiana-based companies that helped build the first U.S. offshore wind farm, off the coast of Rhode Island. But exporting Louisiana knowledge gleaned from offshore drilling was just the first step. Next, Orgeron wants to see wind farms built in the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana’s governor supports …

read more
Donziger Sentenced to Six Months For Contempt Related to Chevron-Ecuador Case

Donziger Sentenced to Six Months For Contempt Related to Chevron-Ecuador Case

A federal judge has sentenced human rights attorney Steven Donziger to six months in prison for criminal contempt in relation to a $9 billion judgment he helped win against Chevron for pollution left behind in the Ecuadorian Amazon. 

Over the years, Donziger showed an “astonishing disrespect for the law and rule of the court,” U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Preska said during a sentencing hearing held Friday in Manhattan.

“Only the proverbial two by four between the eyes will instill in him any respect for the law,” the judge added. 

Preska denied Donziger’s request for post-sentencing bail pending his conviction appeal, but has allowed him to remain on house arrest for one week, while his legal team appeals her bail denial. If the bail appeal is denied, Donziger will await the results of his conviction appeal behind bars.

Donziger was found guilty by Preska in July on six counts of criminal contempt stemming from his work with the Indigenous and small farming communities in Ecuador, which are still dealing with oil pollution. 

The 2011 Ecuadorian judgement was upheld by all levels of that country’s judiciary, however, Chevron has long-maintained the award was won through fraud and corruption. US District court judge Lewis A. Kaplan in 2014 agreed and banned Donziger from profiting from collection of the award. 

Chevron later suspected Donziger was violating that ban and asked Kaplan to investigate. The judge ordered Donziger to comply with several post-judgement discovery orders, including the demand that he hand over his computer and cell phone to the court, along with any communications related to the case.

Donziger argued that the request violated attorney-client privilege and potentially endangered the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, and refused to hand over his devices pending an appeal of the order. Chevron then requested Kaplan charge Donziger with civil …

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Indigenous Water Protectors, Allies Protesting Line 3 First Ever To Be Cited under Obscure County Ordinance in Minnesota

Indigenous Water Protectors, Allies Protesting Line 3 First Ever To Be Cited under Obscure County Ordinance in Minnesota

Opponents to Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline expansion project in Minnesota have filed a lawsuit against Hubbard County for blockading access to an Indigenous-led camp and convergence space.

In the suit, which was filed Friday in Hubbard County District Court, Winona LaDuke, Tara Houska, and two additional plaintiffs allege that the Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office illegally blockaded the camp driveway last month and is continuing to issue citations to Indigenous water protectors and their allies for using the driveway. 

They are the first and only individuals ever to be cited for allegedly violating county ordinance #36, which went into effect in 2007, according to public records obtained by Drilled News. The ordinance prohibits vehicular use on certain county-owned land without the county’s permission. 

The citations raise questions about whether the sheriff’s department is selectively enforcing the law, and about the financial arrangement Enbridge has with Minnesota law enforcement. 

The Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office is a member of the Northern Lights Task Force a coalition of state and local law enforcement and public safety agencies created to respond to pipeline resistance. 

The task force was assembled in 2018 to “coordinate planning, resources and response” to Line 3 construction and possible protests. Members include law enforcement agencies from 15 Minnesota counties near and along the pipeline route, as well as the Fond du Lac Reservation. 

Records indicate Minnesota officials sought out advice from North Dakota law enforcement officials in the wake of mass resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline, where counter-terrorism tactics were used against Indigenous water protectors, their allies, and journalists.

To date, Enbridge has paid over $1 million to law enforcement and other Minnesota agencies for pipeline protection through an escrow account funded by the company and managed by a state-appointed administrator.

The account was set up last year as …

read more
The Supreme Court’s Obscure Procedural Ruling in Baltimore’s Climate Case, Explained

The Supreme Court’s Obscure Procedural Ruling in Baltimore’s Climate Case, Explained

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on an important case about whether major oil and gas companies should be held accountable for engaging in a systematic marketing campaign to deceive the public about the catastrophic threat that fossil fuel products pose to the planet. 

The Court didn’t consider the merits of the case but rather answered an obscure procedural question in a way that permits the defendants to continue to delay litigation in state court, and thereby also serves to deny the public essential information about the fossil fuel industry’s attempt to spread disinformation about its products’ role in fueling the climate crisis.

In the case, Baltimore alleges that the companies used deceptive marketing tactics to hide the danger of fossil fuel products in order to preserve their massive profit streams, in violation of state tort and statutory law. Baltimore argues that these companies should thus help pay for the city’s efforts to respond to sea level rise, increased flooding, extreme heat, and other dangers to the city’s residents and infrastructure caused by the climate crisis. Numerous other cities, counties, and states have filed similar cases.

“The only question before us is one of civil procedure,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the opening of the majority opinion. His qualification may seem odd, as the fossil fuel companies based their petition for review on a question of civil procedure. To understand the thinking behind it, it helps to understand the industry’s litigation strategy in these cases.

Litigation strategy

Instead of defending the local governments’ state law claims on the merits, the oil and gas companies have sought to shift the cases from state to federal court, where they believe they are more likely to succeed. All but one federal district court has rejected their jurisdictional arguments, remanding the …

read more
Climate Guilt, Brought to you by Big Oil

Climate Guilt, Brought to you by Big Oil

A new study from Harvard science historians Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran points to the use of language targeted specifically to downplay the reality of climate change and shift responsibility for the problem entirely onto consumers. Geoffrey Supran, the lead...

read more
Climate Accountability Is a Solution—Why Isn’t It Treated Like One?

Climate Accountability Is a Solution—Why Isn’t It Treated Like One?

What can we do about climate change? Which policies will work? Which technologies? What can individuals do, and what sort of collective action should they support? The appeal of “solutions journalism” addressing climate change is undeniable, but there is a large hole in much of it: understanding the root causes of the problem. 

Catastrophic climate change is a symptom of an intertwined web of problems. Untangling that web and the various forces that created it is not just a worthy exercise, it’s absolutely critical to developing solutions that actually work. The focus on technological and policy solutions to climate has put the cart before the horse, and in doing so, created a solutions framework that is hopelessly inadequate. Americans in particular have a tendency to skip right over accountability and straight to solutions, but failing to understand how a problem came about in the first place tends to deliver…not solutions, but new problems. And on climate, examples of that abound. 

People talk about “the energy transition” as an aspirational, future phase, for example, which ignores the fact that we’ve just spent the past 20 years living through an energy transition, one that required major investments in infrastructure, a new distribution system, all of that. The conversion of U.S. energy sources from coal to natural gas was a massive transition, on par with the transition currently being proposed from fossil fuels to renewables. But we don’t often talk about it that way, which means we miss key lessons from that transition: simply swapping in one energy source for another, focusing on only one greenhouse gas, and allowing the fossil fuel industry to drive and manage that transition were all enormous missteps. In the past five years, study after study has come out revealing under-explored impacts of natural gas, from the global

read more
The Radioactive Underbelly of the Oilfield

The Radioactive Underbelly of the Oilfield

In towns and cities across northern Appalachia industrial and manufacturing jobs have emptied out and men and women hungry for work have been drawn by the beckoning call of the oil and gas industry. Over the past decade that industry has tapped vigorously into the Marcellus and Utica, two massively rich gas layers that underlie the region. But these workers don’t always end up drilling for oil and pulling pipe, wellhead jobs stamped with a certain gritty glamour upon the American imagination. They often end up at a far seedier and even less regulated end of the oilfield, working in the largely unknown underworld of radioactive oilfield waste. Scooping it up and hauling it hither and thither in trucks. 

It was just about ten years ago that drillers—many of them from prominent oilfield states like Texas and Oklahoma—first descended upon eastern Ohio to tap the Utica and Marcellus, opening up an unknown yet lucrative new world for Tom McKnight, who had a wife in healthcare and three college-age kids to help support.

“I was selling John Deere tractors, then I got fired at John Deere and went to work selling used cars,” says McKnight. “Meanwhile I am looking at these hillbillies in cowboy boots and cowboy hats coming in with these big-ass pay stubs and buying these expensive trucks. And I am thinking, I want one of those big-ass checks.”

Tom McKnight, during his years as a brine hauler.

While out for a ride with his wife on a Sunday afternoon in 2013 the couple drove through the parking lot of one oil and gas waste management company and McKnight happened to encounter the general manager. Next thing he knew he was seated in the man’s office for an interview. “No phone calls, no introductions, no points of reference, no …

read more
Gulf Coast Oil Workers Are Building America’s Offshore Wind Industry

Gulf Coast Oil Workers Are Building America’s Offshore Wind Industry

“The biggest misconception about transitioning from offshore drilling to offshore wind is the idea that oil platforms can be reused to hold wind turbines,” Louisiana state Representative Joseph Orgeron said in a recent phone interview. Offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico weren’t designed to handle that sort of load. The weight distribution of an offshore wind turbine is like trying to mount a “pumpkin on a pole,” Orgeron said. 

To function, the vertical base needs to be stout enough to handle the movement of the blades spinning and the face rotating directions with the wind. 

But while offshore drilling platforms don’t quite work as offshore wind platforms, what can be repurposed are the workers and building techniques that have supported offshore oil drilling. A single offshore wind farm could employ more than 4,000 people during construction and 150 people long-term, according to a 2020 analysis by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Rep. Orgeron didn’t start out considering the engineering difficulties of renewable energy. He grew up in the bayous of Louisiana, the homebase for his family’s business of offshore oilfield service vessels. When the oil work started to dry up, he realized that offshore wind could help his family’s company, Montco Offshore Inc, stay afloat. 

“I was fully enamored by offshore wind,” he said. “They’ll need offshore energy production expertise to do those buildouts. The people of South Louisiana would be prime to facilitate that.”

Montco was one of several Louisiana-based companies that helped build the first U.S. offshore wind farm, off the coast of Rhode Island. But exporting Louisiana knowledge gleaned from offshore drilling was just the first step. Next, Orgeron wants to see wind farms built in the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana’s governor supports …

read more