The Baton Rouge Advocate’s headline sums it up: “Gov. [John Bel] Edwards quietly picks top donors to handle coastal suit that could result in big payday.” The suit, against oil and gas companies over the impact of energy operations on coastal erosion, could result in gigantic contingency fees if successful. More: Chamber-backed Louisiana Record (“Lobbyists for attorneys picked by Edwards for coastal litigation team hold fundraiser for governor”), The Hayride (governor twists arms of local governments to join suit), Daily Iberian (no go, says editorial), New Orleans Times-Picayune, more Advocate, Insurance Journal background. More: WWL (representing parish governments could be the real jackpot).
- Didn’t realize former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld had written a novel sympathetic to the persons displaced by one of the great eminent domain binges, the 1930s creation of Quabbin Reservoir (“Stillwater,” background) And down in Virginia: “Sixty years ago they were evicted from the Blue Ridge to make way for Shenandoah National Park. But the refugees haven’t forgotten their lost mountain homes.” [Eddie Dean, Washington City Paper]
- Tokyo’s wide-open policy on development is one reason its house prices have not skyrocketed despite rising population [Alex Tabarrok, more, contrast with cities like Delhi and Mumbai]
- “Chevron Paves The Way For Corporations To Fight ‘Shakedown Lawsuits'” [John Shu, Investors Business Daily, related editorial drawing FedEx and SEIU parallels] More: Roger Parloff and Michael Krauss on Canadian enforcement action in ongoing Ecuador dispute;
- “The Environmental Lightning Rod Known as Fracking” [Ned Mamula, Cato]
- Massachusetts voters in November will face ballot measure sharply restricting methods of handling a host of livestock animals [Baylen Linnekin]
- Do woodpiles attract termites? Chamber backs Flower Mound, Tex. man facing billions in fines for storing wood [Dallas News, earlier]
- An extraordinary tale of fraud and justice: Second Circuit puts definitive kibosh on tainted $9 billion Chevron/Ecuador judgment [decision, Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal, our coverage over many years] “Attorney Who Took Chevron to Court for $18 Billion Suspended by Amazon Defense Front” [Roger Parloff, Fortune]
- New Zealand accords legal personality to river and former national park through treaty settlements with Maori groups [New York Times]
- “The looting of Volkswagen: The company deserves a fine, but politicians keep demanding more” [WSJ editorial]
- Property owners have constitutional rights against NYC landmarks-law NIMBYism [Ilya Shapiro and Randal John Meyer] Where court protection of owners is weaker, cities designate more properties as historic [Nick Zaiac, Market Urbanism] “Against Historic Preservation” [Alex Tabarrok]
- “The growing battle over the use of eminent domain to take property for pipelines” [Ilya Somin]
- “How Anti-Growth Sentiment, Reflected in Zoning Laws, Thwarts Equality” [Conor Dougherty, New York Times, via John Cochrane] Life without zoning goes on in Houston [Scott Beyer, The Federalist]
- Subpoena turnabout not fair play: Congressional Republicans investigating state AGs’ climate advocacy probe are lobbing subpoenas at private enviro groups that urged the anti-speech campaign. Knock it off, two wrongs don’t make right [Eli Lehrer and earlier] “You don’t need complicated models to figure out what happens when governments censor speech. The evidence on that question is solid.” [Steve Simpson]
- And speaking of fraud in policy advocacy (whatever that may mean) some varieties of it are plainly going to have no legal consequences whatsoever [Matt Welch channeling Virginia Postrel on California political class and high-speed rail]
- Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette says 40 anti-pipeline activists gathered and beat on the front door of his home for 30 minutes with his wife alone there [Detroit News]
- Pro-nuclear demonstrators blockade Greenpeace office in San Francisco, but wouldn’t the ultimate way to protest an odious environmental group be to respect the property rights of all concerned? [SFist]
- “It’s a shotgun approach”: injury lawyers find many defendants to blame after Flint public water fiasco [NPR via Renee Krake, Legal Ethics Forum]
- “District court voids Obama administration fracking regulations” [Jonathan Adler, Alden Abbott]
Speaking of infringements on what is now the scope of attorney-client privilege, an Oregon law professor has proposed to make environmental protection part of lawyers’ ethical duties. [Daily Climate; Tom Lininger, “Green Ethics for Lawyers,” Boston College Law Review, 2016; Scott Greenfield] Some backers hope the idea will encourage lawyers representing the fossil fuel industry, in particular, to disregard conventional attorney duties of loyalty to clients; indeed, it might someday serve as grounds for them to be disciplined if they refrain from betraying client interests in various situations.
- Supreme Court should clarify whether agency has discretion to ignore any and all costs in designating Endangered Species Act habitat [Ilya Shapiro and Randal John Meyer on Cato certiorari amicus in Building Industry Association of the Bay Area v. U.S. Dept. of Commerce]
- Unanimous decision in Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes is second SCOTUS ruling this year against Environmental Protection Agency, and umpteenth blow to its reputation [Ned Mamula, Cato]
- Speaking of billionaires with vendettas against speech: Tom Steyer of San Francisco pushes New Hampshire attorney general to join probe of wrongful climate advocacy [Mike Bastasch, Daily Caller, earlier here, etc.]
- “Modern zoning would have killed off America’s dense cities”: 40% of Manhattan’s buildings couldn’t be built today because they would violate a law [New York Times, Scott Beyer/Forbes]
- And if anyone should know about tainting it’s them: United Nations human rights bureaucracy probes Flint water contamination [Associated Press]
- Anti-fossil-fuel demonstrators block rail line and the Associated Press can’t find a single critic to quote [related, Shift Washington]
- Remembering William Tucker, author of books on many subjects including the 1982 classic on environmentalism, Progress and Privilege, and a valued friend of long standing [RealClearEnergy, where he was founding editor]
- Scalia took lead in defending property rights vs. regulatory takings, but mostly not by deploying originalist analysis. A missed opportunity, thinks Ilya Somin;
- What? Children in parts of Saginaw, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, etc. have higher blood lead levels than in Flint [Detroit News] Flint water department didn’t use standard $150/day neutralizing treatment. Why not? [Nolan Finley, Detroit News] Children in Michigan generally ten years ago had higher prevalence of lead in blood at concern thresholds than children in Flint today [David Mastio, USA Today] Earlier here and here;
- On eminent domain, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz seem to be “talking past each other, about two different things” [Gideon Kanner]
- Saboteurs going after Canadian pipelines [CBC]
- “Mission or Craftsman style” was insisted on, but the resulting vacant lot doesn’t seem to be either: south L.A. grocery scheme dies after decade-long urban-planning fight [Los Angeles Times]
- As prices plunge: “Where Have All the Peak Oilers Gone?” [Ronald Bailey, Reason]
Months of agitation promoting a government investigation of supposedly wrongful advocacy on the issue of climate change have begun to pay off. As Holman Jenkins [paywall] notes, purportedly levelheaded Democrats and environmentalists are now jumping on the bandwagon for a probe of possible unlawful speech or non-speech by energy companies and advocacy groups they’ve backed. Perhaps the most remarkable name on that list is Hillary Clinton, who said the other day in New Hampshire, referring to Exxon, “There’s a lot of evidence that they misled people.” That’s right: Hillary Clinton, of all people, now wants to make it unlawful for those who engage in public controversy to mislead people.
The first high-profile law enforcer to bite, it seems, will be Eric Schneiderman, whose doings I’ve examined at length lately. “The New York attorney general has launched an investigation into Exxon Mobil to determine whether the country’s largest oil and gas company lied to investors about how global warming could hurt its balance sheets and also hid the risks posed by climate change from the public,” reports U.S. News. Show me the denier, as someone almost said, and I will find you the crime: “The Martin Act is a nearly empty vessel into which the AG can pour virtually any content that he wants,” as Reuters points out. More on the Martin Act here and here.
At Forbes, Daniel Fisher notes the possible origins of the legal action in an environmentalist-litigator confab in 2012 (“Climate Accountability Initiative”) in which participants speculated that getting access to the internal files of energy companies and advocacy groups could be a way to blow up the climate controversy politically. Fisher also notes that Justice Stephen Breyer, in the Nike v. Kasky case dismissed 12 years ago on other grounds, warned that it will tend to chill advocacy both truthful and otherwise by businesses if opponents can seize on disagreements on contentious public issues and run to court with complaints of consumer (or presumably securities) fraud.
Perhaps in this case chilling advocacy is the whole point. And very much related: my colleague Roger Pilon’s post last week, “Whatever Happened to the Left’s Love of Free Speech?“; Robert Samuelson (“The advocates of a probe into Exxon Mobil are essentially proposing that the company be punished for expressing its opinions.”)
An editorial in this morning’s Wall Street Journal is blunt:
Advocates of climate regulation are urging the Obama Administration to investigate people who don’t share their views.
Last month George Mason Professor Jagadish Shukla and 19 others signed a letter to President Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and White House science adviser John Holdren urging punishment for climate dissenters. “One additional tool — recently proposed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse — is a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) investigation of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change,” they wrote.
In other words, they want the feds to use a law created to prosecute the mafia against lawful businesses and scientists. … [RICO] can inflict treble damages upon a defendant. Enacted to stop organized crime and specifically to prosecute individuals tied to loansharking and murder-for-hire, it was long seen as so powerful a tool that the government warned prosecutors to limit its use.
The scientists’ RICO letter was “inadvertently posted” on the website of a group almost entirely funded by taxpayers [Ian Tuttle, National Review Online; Coyote] Rob Nikolewski at Watchdog.org has more on the letter and its aftermath, and quotes me:
Walter Olson, senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies, thinks that’s a dangerous step to take.
“This is core political persuasion,” Olson told Watchdog.org. “If this is illegal racketeering, then potentially an awful lot of things that people debate about are also illegal racketeering … It’s a dangerous power because it won’t be used even-handedly.”
Scientists’ “Letter To President Obama: Investigate Deniers Under RICO” is exactly what it sounds like [Greg Laden, ScienceBlogs] We earlier noted, as a step toward attaching legal consequences to unwanted advocacy, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-R.I.) op-ed “urg[ing] the U.S. Department of Justice to consider filing a racketeering suit against the oil and coal industries for having promoted wrongful thinking on climate change, with the activities of ‘conservative policy’ groups an apparent target of the investigation as well,” as well as Gawker’s call to “arrest climate change deniers.”
P.S. For more on the widely publicized book Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, which condemns various scientists said to be too skeptical of the factual basis for regulation, see links gathered by Judith Curry, including this Reiner Grundmann review. Yet more: “I have no idea how it affects the First Amendment” says Vermont scientist who backs probe of wrongful advocacy [Bruce Parker/Watchdog, quotes me]