By Chris Horner
On April 25, 2016, Harvard Law School and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) held a meeting with activists, public officials, and lawyers to, in part, “share legal and scientific information having an important bearing on potential investigations and lawsuits” against the energy industry.
One participant described the briefing, in two separate mails, as the “Secret Meeting at Harvard”. It was formally styled as a “safe space” to develop “Potential State Causes of Action Against Major Carbon Producers”.
The audience was not just senior attorneys for state attorneys general; we also have learned the pitch was for the benefit of local prosecutors, and “prospective funders”.
Presenters included Naomi Oreskes, Sharon Eubanks, Peter Frumhoff, and Carroll Muffett. They had previously gathered for a 2012 meeting in La Jolla, California to craft a plan to privately litigate against opponents of the climate agenda. The specific desire was a plan to sue energy companies for a massive settlement modeled after that obtained from tobacco companies.
To advance this, they called for or “a single sympathetic attorney general” to initiate helpful investigations of their targets (p. 11). Fast forward to Harvard Law School in April 2016.
The September 2018 CEI report, “Law Enforcement for Rent” explored in detail what public records show about this gathering. Among those details is a reasoned supposition, based on the records and some clumsy blog posts, of the efforts to keep it secret and reaction to learning that details would come out (see p. 26, citations omitted):
“The host groups decided to belatedly blog about the event as if it were routine, responding to charges not made by anyone, what with the briefing being “secret,” and therefore not (yet) public knowledge. UCS’s [Peter] Frumhoff, after appealing to his longtime involvement with the issue, closed his May 11,2016, blog post with:
“Harvard Law School routinely hosts meetings that provide policy makers with opportunities to confer with scholars and practitioners. State attorneys general and their staff routinely confer privately with experts in the course of their deliberations about matters before them.”
For its part, Harvard stated in an undated May 2016 post:
“It is the normal business of Attorneys General staff to keep informed and to have access to the latest thinking about issues important to their work.”
Neither post mentioned that participating plaintiffs’ attorneys had been introduced to AGs by at least one major donor to make their pitch. Neither hinted that UCS paid AG lawyers’ way. Neither noted that this meeting, for which OAG attorneys flew in to assist with possible AG investigations and lawsuits, was in fact a green- group fundraiser.”
How insightful that was. Newly obtained emails shed further light on this and the coordinated campaign to use the courts, and even law enforcement, against opponents of a political agenda.
The secret meeting was indeed that, and was intended to be kept under wraps; the blog posts were exactly what they appeared to be, which was after-the-fact cover. The parties outed their event after OAG attorneys informed UCS, the plaintiffs’ lawyers, and activists gathered of a public records request. That OAG indicated that the agenda, and names of several of the participants, would therefore become public at some point. UCS and Harvard, as suggested in the Law Enforcement for Rent paper, sought to get ahead of the revelation with belated blog posts.
Specifically, UCS’ Peter Frumhoff informed some presenters who would be named: “one state participant (CT) told us that he recently received an open-records request that would lead him to release email correspondence (with Shaun and perhaps with state colleagues) related to this meeting – including a draft agenda listing organizers and most of the invited presenters (you).”
Frumhoff continues, writing that after “discussing options internally and with state participants” UCS and UCLA will “post/distribute matter-of-fact notices about our meeting.” He claimed “In deference to the preferences of the state participants, we’re not planning to name them” — remember, there’s nothing to see here, so, really, why bother.
The state participants Frumhoff fails to disclose appear to be the “state and local prosecutors” that UCLA’s Cara Horowitz mentions in her email to Emmett, previously reported by CLW.
Now, “climate denialism” is neither a crime (so far), nor does it violate anything other than a particular worldview. It is committed by, for example, opposing the climate political agenda. Nonetheless, a group of academics, activists, and plaintiffs’ lawyers recruited prosecutors to “go after climate denialism”.
Frumhoff himself suggests in this email that the prosecutors were very interested.
And, nearly a year after this conference, local municipalities (particularly, badly mismanaged cities seeking some revenue windfall to bail them out) began filing lawsuits against energy interests, claiming they should be held legally and financially responsible for claimed damages as a result of climate change.
Last year, a podcast calling itself “Drilled” emerged, focusing on climate lawsuits and alleging all manner of nefarious behavior committed by those daring to challenge the climate agenda. In an early episode, host Amy Westervelt noted that “Holding the industry accountable for manufacturing climate denial isn’t about finding a bad guy or even strictly about justice… it’s about putting climate denial to rest once and for all and removing key obstacles for action.”
Praise be to our protectors – forsaking justice to silence opposition and ensure those pesky obstacles get “removed”, clearing the path for their preferred “action” on climate.
An interesting question is, were these offices now pursuing climate investigations and lawsuits represented at the “secret meeting at Harvard”? (Other than the eagerly political New York and Massachusetts OAGs, about which we know). So far, although this was perfectly normal and, really, something to be proud of, the others’ “preference” is to remain secret. However that, too, seems certain to change, as those targeted by the abuses of public office push back.