Boulder's climate change suit 'pretty crazy,' group says; City will hire unnamed D.C. law firm

By Glenn Minnis | Jan 19, 2018

BOULDER, Colo. (Legal Newsline) - The Colorado city of Boulder is ready to sue the energy sector over climate change, joining a group of other government entities that have already done the same. Now, it has to prove its case.

Boulder's city council recently approved a plan to hire a Washington, D.C., firm on an allegedly pro bono basis to file the suit, which is likely to be similar to seven others in California and one recently filed in New York City. They allege energy companies like Exxon are to blame for the effects of climate change.

Exxon says those California cities are hypocrites, as bond offerings have not disclosed that any climate change-caused event is imminent.

A group opposing Boulder's decision says Boulder will not be able to prove such an event is coming, either, or that it would be the fault of energy companies.

“These suits sound pretty crazy to me given that the city will have to establish that climate change is real, the industry caused the problem and the city can now solve it," said William Perry Pendley, president of Mountain States Legal Foundation. 

"They have an incredible proof problem that I think is unattainable.”

Pendley added nothing about today’s climate seems on the side of the plaintiffs.

“The issue of climate change is something that’s still being debated across the world,” he said. “For a judge to rule in the city’s favor, he would have to say ‘no one can answer these questions, but I will.’”  

Meanwhile, Jonathan Koehn, the regional sustainability coordinator for Boulder under Mayor Suzanne Jones, says the city is suing these companies because they have a history of emitting greenhouse gases across the state.

“Boulder has long had a standing to address climate change at the local level,” Koehn recently told Legal Newsline.

“We realize we needed to have more effective tool. And one of the things that has drove this kind of thinking over the past five years are the more catastrophic situations we’ve experienced.”

Koeh believes local governments are better suited to fight the energy industry but won't make known the law firm the city will be working with. 

"The intent of this action is to shine a bright light on climate accountability and challenge the notion that consumers are the only responsible entity. It’s patently clear we need more responsibility at the local level," he said.

“We’ve been working with this law firm for a while, and they’ve meet our demand of partnering with a Colorado firm before the proceedings commence."

In California, Exxon, one of the company’s named in the city’s suit, is defending its reputation by insisting some government officials are intent on pushing a political agenda that centers on demonizing those in the industry.

Koehn counters the time for debating the legitimacy of climate change and rather there are contributors to what is environmentally happening has come and gone.

“We can look out our window and see this is real,” he said. “We don’t need to debate climate change while we’re having to adapt to what is happening. We think this is important and the fear of litigation might trigger real change.”


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