Amidst the environmental turmoil of the current administration, the Washington Post tells us we have three years left to act on climate before it is too late; in the meantime, the Supreme Judicial Court prepares to hear Exxon/Mobil’s appeal against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Massachusetts utilities try to move us backward while Vermont moves forward on renewables. Tune in for more.
The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) is going to determine whether Exxon/Mobil has to hand over its 40 years of records to Attorney General (AG) Maura Healey. It will be interesting to see how the SJC comes down. If they determine that Exxon/Mobil does have to hand over its records, how long will it take Exxon/Mobil to “pony up?”
Here is the backstory for the Healey case. AG Healey issued a civil investigative demand (CID) to Exxon Mobil Corporation on April 19, 2016. This CID, or information request, cited potential violations of the MA consumer protection law.AG Healey asserted that Exxon/Mobil misled MA consumers and stockholders by not disclosing their knowledge that burning fossil fuels produces dangerous carbon emissions. Two reports exposed Exxon/Mobil’s concern and knowledge about the impacts of burning fossil fuels—the 2015 Inside Climate News report “Exxon: The Road Not Taken” and the Union of Concerned Scientist's Climate Deception Dossiers. As this article asserts, “Since 1978, long before the general public grew aware of the climate crisis, Exxon had worked at the cutting edge of emerging climate science.” According to one of the InsideClimate News articles, Exxon had a research team, Exxon Research and Engineering, dedicated to studying the impacts of emissions—this team even had a supertanker to measure carbon dioxide in the air and sea. In the early 1980s, several peer-reviewed studies were published by Exxon scientists, including Ed Garvey, indicating that fossil fuels caused global warming; Garvey claimed that Exxon was concerned that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would be a problem in the future. They foresaw the prospect of legislation and possible replacement of fossil fuels, prompting them to be at the forefront of understanding the science. By the late 1980s, however, Exxon curtailed its climate research and instead began funneling money into the denial of the climate science—including the information they had discovered.
Exxon’s chicanery has a negative economic impact on MA, and it is fraud. Exxon is pushing against various legal claims, disputing the claim that what they said, what they knew, and what they did not say constitutes legal fraud. According to an article in the Boston Herald, Exxon Mobil’s appeal is a legal challenge that questions whether or not MA courts have the jurisdiction to consider Healey’s suit. It is possible that Exxon may take the position that its activities related to what it disclosed were not undertaken in Massachusetts offices and thereby should not be prosecuted in this state. Exxon Mobil’s legal experts argue that Healey’s information request is arbitrary, overbroad, and burdensome. Additionally, Exxon is saying that Healey is a biased prosecutor because she was at a press conference with Al Gore back in 2016 to announce the pursuit of this investigation. It is obvious nonsense, but if we can get someone gullible enough to buy it, Exxon will be in the clear. Let’s hope that the U.S. Supreme Justice Court is not that gullible and rules on the right side of history.
A Washington Post article by Chris Mooney caught our attention—Mooney cited a new study that if we don’t drastically change our actions in the next three years, we will hit a point of no return. We will have unstoppable shifts in climate. This has sparked an interesting debate. As was the case with the New York Magazine piece “Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells there are people who pointed out that crossing this tipping point depends on whether or not we will summon the will to avoid the worst hazards. When you see these stories that say we are about to hit the point of no return, the inherent assumption is that the world will do nothing, or at least not enough. As D.R. says, “If we remain lazy, we will all go crazy.” But there is also the assertion that human-induced climate change began even earlier than we thought, and therefore we are closer to the brink than we originally anticipated.
We retain a small bit of hope that the political canvas in the United States will change under the new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired military general. At the very least, we hope that he will impose discipline on the currently chaotic White House. As mentioned in Scientific American, addressing climate change is widely regarded by bipartisan military leaders and national security folks as a fundamental national security matter. John Kelly is a close associate of James Mattis who understands that climate change drives instability and requires a “whole-of-government” response. As mentioned in a Vox article, sea level rise may threaten the operations of more than 128 US military sites and is already causing nuisance flooding in the Navy’s military base in Norfolk, VA. The military’s general stance on climate change is that it is a national security threat. Kelly has not come on record one way or another on climate change—let’s hope that he, too, makes decisions that fall on the right side of history.
Speaking of things that can be done to avoid dangerous climate change, there is an interesting juxtaposition of stories. The first is in the NY Times about a utility in Vermont known as Green Mountain Power. Green Mountain is taking steps to help consumers get off the grid and to turn to energy saving equipment and renewable sources of energy. Generating their own energy will tax the grid less in addition to having a positive impact on the climate. In contrast to Vermont’s forward thinking energy strategy, WBUR ran a story about Eversource’s efforts to sabotage solar by saying that those who net-meter (with solar panels) “are getting a free ride on the cost to maintain the grid.” This is an aberration from the growing consensus presented in a review by Brookings that all electricity customers benefit from net metering. It is interesting to see forward thinking utilities in VT and backward thinking utilities in MA.
Because we recognize the necessity of personal accountability for our actions, because we accept responsibility for building a durable future and because we believe it is our patriotic duty as citizens to speak out, we must insist that the United States put a price on carbon.