Hills condemns lawsuits against energy producers

January 5, 2023

Outraged at lawsuits filed by states and municipalities alleging energy companies are responsible for weather-related damages, Rusty Hills, lecturer in public policy, took to the National Law Journal to argue against these frivolous lawsuits. 

Along with William Schuette, former Michigan Attorney General and Judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals, Hills urges state attorneys general and local officials to reject these lawsuits and courts to dismiss them.

"We are from Michigan, where our Great Lakes are part of our environmental heritage. They must be protected," the duo write. "As the former Michigan Attorney General and Michigan Court of Appeals Judge, Congressman and State Senator, and the former Senior Counsel to the Michigan Attorney General, we watch these cases closely. We can state from experience these lawsuits stand on questionable legal foundations, don’t reduce climate impacts, and fail to protect the environment. 'Fact-checking' these lawsuits reveal that good faith apparently has been banished in their pleadings."

Hills and Schuette point out that the lawsuits allege energy producers engage in deceptive marketing practices when it comes to disclosing climate conditions, despite the fact that government officials have known about global warming and scientists have studied climate change since the 1950s. They continue, calling plaintiffs hypocrites since they continue to do business with energy producers.

"Climate change occurs globally, and we all contribute through our daily activities," Hills and his co-author continue. "So why have the plaintiffs pinned the blame on a handful of companies who are selling a legal product?"

In addition to Hills and Schuette calling out these fraudulent lawsuits, other state and local officials have refused offers from law firms for representation, citing that everyone has in causing climate change.

"Federal judges have established that regulators and Congress, not the courts, should address climate change," the duo writes. "That’s why not a single climate lawsuit to date has succeeded. Federal judges have reasoned the court system is not the proper venue to resolve the complex relationship between energy and the environment, or the dependency on foreign oil and rising gas prices."

Further, Hills and his colleague claim, there is evidence that the same states and municipalities filing these lawsuits themselves can't put a monetary value on the damage caused by climate change, calling into question their motivations.

"These lawsuits are not really driven by altruistic elected officials, but rather by privately funded special interests," Hills and Schuette say. "Some charitable foundations have explicitly embedded and funded private lawyers in at least five state attorneys general offices to support the lawsuits."

They then ask why states are pursuing funds through lawsuits when the federal government already has money set aside for weather-related damages. 

"Instead of seeking money from energy producers, cities and states could access federal resources and funds that are still available," Hills and his co-author say. "As of 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency still had $6.7 billion available for states to address damages. Rhode Island only used $6.1 million of its $17 million allocation, yet filed a lawsuit that same year attempting to collect local infrastructure compensation. Why wasn’t the state using the money available to them?"

By sucking up capital that could be spent on experimentation, these lawsuits encroach on energy companies' ability to innovate clean energy solutions.

"Evidence is plentiful that public officials should reject pleas to pursue these frivolous lawsuits," Hills and Schuette conclude. "America’s climate agenda should not be driven by outside special interests. Our goals should be cleaner skies and environmental safety. The better path is partnership and innovation to advance climate solutions."

Read the entirety of Hills and Schuette's article in the National Law Journal.