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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Recent grants help nonprofits doing 'most of the work' on Boulder's climate change lawsuit

By John O'Brien | Apr 23, 2018

Boulder, Colo.

BOULDER, Colo. (Legal Newsline) – Pro bono work that the Niskanen Center is performing in a global warming lawsuit on behalf of the Colorado city of Boulder will be aided by a $200,000 grant awarded less than two months before the case was filed.

Last week, the city and county of Boulder and San Miguel County, Colo., filed their lawsuit against Exxon and Suncor, claiming the two companies are to blame for past and future costs associated with climate change. The lawsuit, similar to others filed in California and New York City, claims the companies have created a public nuisance.

According to Boulder County’s website, “most of the work” will be done by the two nonprofits representing the plaintiffs on a pro bono basis – EarthRights International and the Niskanen Center. A private firm in Denver will receive up to 20% of any recovery.

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund on Feb. 22 awarded a $200,000 grant to advance solutions to climate change to the Niskanen Center. It also previously gave the center $70,000 in 2016.

The RBF - created and run by the Rockefeller family, which gained its wealth in the oil industry – announced four years ago it was divesting from fossil fuels. New York City made a similar gesture when it announced its lawsuit.

Now, the RBF funds groups to pursue goals like climate change awareness and clean energy.

Elsewhere in Colorado, RBF has given $750,000 through the years to the Aspen Global Change Institute.

Other climate-related grants awarded to the Niskanen Center include $700,000 from the Hewlett Foundation in the past two years.

The same foundation has also given EarthRights International, the other nonprofit representing Boulder, $900,000 since March 2016.

The City of Boulder was tight-lipped in the months leading up to the lawsuit, saying only that the City Council had approved a plan to hire a Washington, D.C., firm on a pro bono basis.

Like the California cases, Boulder’s makes a claim under the public nuisance theory. Climate change has caused a nuisance in the Boulder area, and the plaintiffs have to mitigate its impacts, the suit alleges.

Fifteen state attorneys general, led by Indiana's Curtis Hill and including Colorado's Cynthia Coffman, say that theory isn’t good enough. Federal judges should not be asked to establish emissions policy, the brief says.

Private lawyers in the California cases will be seeking up to 23% of any recovery.

“But the questions of global climate change and its effects – and the proper balance of regulatory and commercial activity – are political questions not suited for resolution by any court,” the state AGs  say.

“Indeed, such judicial resolution would trample Congress’ carefully calibrated process of cooperative federalism where States work in tandem with EPA to administer the federal Clean Air Act.”

In the California litigation, a federal judge recently instructed the plaintiffs to amend their lawsuits following the realization that a memo they cited was mostly inconsequential to their claims.

Also, the California cities and counties face possible consequences for alleging near-certain, climate change-caused doom in their lawsuits while not disclosing those fears to possible investors in bond offerings.

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Organizations in this Story

City of Boulder Exxon Mobil Suncor Energy