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What 2022 Revealed in Climate Litigation: Coordination, Failures, and Duds

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Why does Energy In Depth – a research program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America – have a website on climate litigation and the #ExxonKnew campaign? Simple: because these...

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  • Jan 6, 2023

Supporters of the national climate litigation campaign had high hopes for 2022, but it was another disappointing year for an effort that has yet to win in court and continues to struggle from further revelations of secret coordination and funding. Much of the campaign’s focus over the last year was working with lawmakers in Washington DC, but this beltway strategy faltered in the face of transparency.

Hollywood Funding for Climate Litigation

The biggest bombshell story of 2022 came from Fox News reporting which exposed Hollywood celebrity Leonardo DiCaprio as an integral part of the climate litigation campaign from the very beginning. Working with academics at UCLA, DiCaprio’s non-profit was revealed to be funneling financial resources to Sher Edling, the for-profit plaintiffs’ law firm that is leading the litigation charge in courts across the country. Fox News reported in August:

“Leonardo DiCaprio’s non-profit foundation awarded grants to a dark money group which, in turn, funneled money to a law firm spearheading climate nuisance lawsuits nationwide,” according to emails reviewed by Fox News Digital.

The emails, obtained via open records litigation after a two-year legal battle in California, show that the funding from DiCaprio, the MacArthur Foundation, JPB Foundation, and other major foundations was funneled through the “Collective Action Fund for Accountability, Resilience and Adaptation” – a fiscal sponsorship of the Resources Legacy Fund and later the New Venture Fund.

Oversight Committee: No “Bombshells” in Dud Report

Fourteen months and a million-plus documents later, the outcome of the House Oversight Committee’s investigation turned out to be a giant nothingburger. The report landed on a Friday afternoon in December, without a press conference and little fanfare, just weeks before Democrats exit the majority.

Rep. Ro Khanna, the top Democrat leading the investigation, told E&E News that the report would not “break through” with the public, and even the Center for Climate Integrity (CCI), an activist group pushing climate litigation, admitted the investigation hadn’t turned up any “bombshells.” Instead, the released internal company documents merely highlighted the obvious fact that oil and natural gas companies want to continue producing oil and natural gas.

Underscoring the fact that there is no “there” there, activists working closely with Capitol Hill staff reported in late December that the Oversight Committee has killed off any future plans for the investigation once the Democrats forfeit control of the House next month. The committee no longer plans to share the companies’ documents with the Senate for purposes of continuing the investigation nor will it “send letters to the U.S. Justice Department or the White House requesting that the investigation continue.”

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