Repost from iPolitics
Big Oil’s scorched-earth legal approach to climate changeBy Keith Stewart, March 14, 2016
I want to believe the oil company CEOs who say they’ve seen the light and now support action on climate change. I really do.
But it’s hard to take them at their word when their lawyers are simultaneously engaged in what one legal scholar has called “the first case in which a party has challenged the constitutional validity of any federal greenhouse gas regulations.”
A consortium of seven oil companies is challenging the right of the federal government to adopt a regulation designed to substitute renewable energy for fossil fuels — in part on the grounds that “that the production and consumption of petroleum fuels is not dangerous and does not pose a risk to human health or safety”, and so, “there is no evil to be suppressed”.
Those words are taken from a 2014 legal ruling against the companies. The judge in that case went on to refute their argument at length: “The evil of global climate change and the apprehension of harm resulting from the enabling of climate change through the combustion of fossil fuels has been widely discussed and debated by leaders on the international stage. Contrary to Syncrude’s submission, this is a real, measured evil, and the harm has been well documented.”
Or maybe not. Syncrude was back in court last November to appeal that ruling.
Few Canadians have heard of Syncrude because it’s a consortium of oil companies that jointly operate three massive tar sands mines. Suncor became Syncrude’s largest shareholder when it bought Canadian Oil Sands earlier this year, but the mines’ day-to-day operations are managed by Imperial Oil, the Canadian subsidiary of ExxonMobil.
It’s no surprise to see Exxon involved in this case; the company has a long history of opposing action on climate change. Exxon is now under investigation in New York and California for publicly claiming that the science of global warming was too murky to warrant policy action by governments — even as the company redesigned its drill rigs and pipelines destined for the Canadian Arctic based on company scientists’ predictions of a warming world. Exxon also was the only major oil player not on stage with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley as she announced the province’s ambitious new climate policy.
Yet it’s surprising to see companies like Suncor — which are trying to rebrand themselves as climate leaders — involved in such legal shenanigans. In his assessment of the original case, University of Calgary law professor Nigel Bankes wrote that this litigation “suggests that at least the sector of big oil represented by the Syncrude interests will fight federal greenhouse gas regulations in all of its forms and that it will fight them hard.
“There was no stone left unturned in this litigation. Counsel for Syncrude pursued every possible avenue, no matter how small the chance of success or creative the argument. Big carbon may be just like big tobacco in protecting its turf.” — University of Calgary law professor Nigel Bankes
That doesn’t sound like something climate leaders ought to do.
As the largest shareholder, Suncor should tell their colleagues to withdraw this appeal. They should then take the money they were spending on lawyers and use it to map out how their businesses can thrive in a world that has moved beyond fossil fuels.Keith Stewart is the head of the climate and energy campaign at Greenpeace Canada, and teaches a course on energy policy at the University of Toronto