Member Spotlight: Change the Chamber
The following post originally appeared on ChangetheChamber.org
Accountability and truth. Two of the most important aspects needed when analyzing the issue of climate change; however, the U.S Chamber of Commerce continues to attempt to obstruct the search for accountability and truth in favor of promoting the fossil fuel industry’s desire to create and sell more polluting energy. As one of the strongest lobbying groups representing businesses across America, the U.S Chamber of Commerce plays an important role in cases related to global warming as the Chamber’s goals are increasingly tampered with in climate-liability cases. Their murky goals are demonstrated in several cases, one being State of Rhode Island v. Shell Oil Products Co., LLC.
Since 2018, Rhode Island has been facing rising sea levels and temperatures as well as more intense and frequent storms. Rhode Island’s Attorney General alleged that the marketing of oil products by the companies promoted “anti-science” campaigns and that the companies concealed hazards associated with the manufacture and use of their fossil fuel projects. Rhode Island state sued Shell Oil Products and more than 20 other oil companies in State of Rhode Island v. Shell Oil Products Co., LLC at the Providence/Bristol County Superior Court.
This isn’t a new idea. In 1980, several oil companies conducted private assessments of their own products and determined that the creation and usage of their products would expedite global warming, sea levels rising, and the rate of CO2 emissions. These assessments prove that oil companies were aware of the disastrous impact of their actions on the environment. They have continually resorted to false advertising, as clearly demonstrated in Rhode Island’s presentation of the facts.
Instead of arguing the merits of the case, the defendants used a procedural issue to avoid debating the facts in court. In response to the claims made by Rhode Island, the accused companies attempted to remove the case to a federal district court by citing the Federal Officer Removal Statute – a doctrine that removes certain cases from state to federal courts and is available to use by federal officers and corporations. They stated that the case must be removed to federal court because much of their business was carried out for federal contracts and under the supervision of federal officers.
U.S CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed an amicus brief in favor of the oil companies in 2019. The Chamber’s brief supported the oil companies’ arguments while also introducing new reasoning for why this case should be viewed under federal jurisdiction. They presented a new argument that only federal courts have the jurisdiction to review claims that relate to global climate change. They argued that Rhode Island’s claims relate to the global problem of climate change and not specifically to Rhode Island, making this out of state jurisdiction.
Climate change is a global problem, but this does not dismiss the very local causes and effects. While it is true that the impacts of Shell’s oil products on Rhode Island are representative of the much larger problem of global warming, Rhode Island must address the local obstacles to mitigation and adaptation of climate change. A settlement from Shell would be enormously helpful to Rhode Island’s communities which are dangerously exposed to climate change.
The reasoning behind the amicus brief is strategic. In the past, when these cases reached federal judges, they were dismissed. Both the Chamber and the oil companies hope that this lawsuit will be dismissed in the federal courts, as in previous cases. If this lawsuit is dismissed, it would have allow oil companies to continue their campaign of misinformation and lies in order to promote the production of their environmentally damaging products, with no accountability.
For example, in City of New York v. BP PLC (2018) where the city brought causes of action against oil companies situated within the city asking for compensation for rising sea levels caused by the fossil fuels produced by these companies. Similar to Rhode Island’s case, the defendants argued for this case to be removed to federal court by stating that the state’s global warming tort claims could only be discussed in a federal setting. However, unlike Rhode Island’s case – the defendants were successful in their arguments to remove this case to federal court. This case was eventually dismissed in 2019 with the judges’ ruling stating that this case tampered with foreign policy which could lead to harmful consequences. The ruling of City of New York v. BP PLC demonstrates when cases filed by cities and states in state court are removed to federal court, they are often dismissed, which allows for oil companies to not be held accountable for the harmful impacts of the generation of their products.
The fossil fuel industry undoubtedly brings harm to our environment, These oil companies blatantly lied about their procedures by advertising fabricated benefits and downplaying hazards, which allowed them to continue to manufacture their products. The fossil fuel industry’s sole concern is about the promotion of their products, and they are clearly willing to spread “anti-science campaigns”, as long as it benefits them. By defending these fossil fuel superpowers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s actions continued a common theme within the fossil fuel industry: manipulation and misinformation. As best stated in the Rhode Island Senators’ amicus brief supporting the state of Rhode Island, “The erroneous nature of the Chamber’s (and the Defendants’) exclusivity argument becomes more acute when examined in the context of these same parties’ decades-long efforts to stifle action by both Congress and the executive branch, to pervert climate science and the public’s understanding of climate science, and to undermine the United States’ role in international negotiation”
The U.S. Chamber’s work doesn’t stop there though. In another related to State of Rhode Island v. Shell Oil Products Co., LLC, the Chamber filed an amicus brief in support of oil companies’ motion to remove the case to the federal court in B.P. p.l.c. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore. As in Rhode Island, the Chamber cites the Federal Officer Removal Statute and the need to view this issue from a “non-biased federal view”, with the goal of eventually getting this case dismissed. The Baltimore case has reached the Supreme Court which is currently in the process of hearing arguments regarding the remand order.
Through their actions, it’s clear to see that the U.S Chamber of Commerce needs to be held accountable for its anti-environmental actions that prioritize corporate greed over the well-being of citizens and a stable climate. For the time being, it’s clear to see that the Chamber will continue to wield its power to protect the fossil fuel industry’s catastrophic business model and thereby catalyze the worst impacts of climate change.