An extraordinary bill in the California legislature, promoted as making it easier to sue fossil fuel companies over their involvements in public debate, would lift the four-year statute of limitations of the state’s already extremely liberal Unfair Competition Law, otherwise known as s. 17200 — and retrospectively, so as to revive decades’ worth of time-lapsed claims “with respect to scientific evidence regarding the existence, extent, or current or future impacts of anthropogenic induced anthropogenic-induced climate change.” Despite a 2004 round of voter-sponsored reform which curbed some of its worst applications, s. 17200 still enables what a California court called “legal shakedown” operations in which “ridiculously minor” violations serve as the predicate for automatic entitlement to damages, attorneys’ fees, and other relief.
Combined with the plans laid by California Attorney General Kamala Harris — part of the alliance of AGs that has sought to investigate not only oil, gas, and coal companies, but private advocacy groups and university scientists who have played a role in what is characterized as “climate denial” — the bill would begin laying the legal groundwork for an astonishingly broad campaign of inquisition and, potentially, expropriation. The bill was approved by a subcommittee and was further amended May 10 to provide that climate science-related claims of any age would begin a four-year reviver period as of next January. [Northern California Record; the left-leaning Union of Concerned Scientists has a piece supporting the bill]
Section 2(b) of the bill declares it the California legislature’s policy to promote “redress for unfair competition practices committed by entities that have deceived, confused, or misled the public on the risks of climate change or financially supported activities that have deceived, confused, or misled the public on those risks” [emphasis added] — a very clear signal that the target is public issue advocacy, and not merely (say) advertising that is directed at consumers in their capacity as buyers of gasoline at the pump. Last month, a federal court slapped down, as an unconstitutional burden on First Amendment rights, California Attorney General Kamala Harris’s demand for the donor lists of nonprofits that carry on operations in California.