Municipalities of Puerto Rico v. Exxon Mobil, Part 1

What can I say about this latest November 22, 2022 filing? Oh, …… brother.

It is filled with so many faulty assertions and accusations that I’ll have to split it into two parts. It was filed by a law firm that seems to have no significant prior connections to the climate issue and thus is categorized in my big list as the 6th “independently-led” one. But is it really? To borrow the words of one TV actor playing Sherlock Holmes, “there is not enough facts available to arrive at a conclusion” as to whether this law firm had major assistance from the Sher Edling law firm’s boilerplate copy template (shared in basic form throughout all of its 16 filings), or if it simply blatantly plagiarized from those lawsuits while slathering on its hugely problematic additional accusatory content.

One of the odd things about this November 22 filing by the Tennessee-headquartered Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman, LLC law firm (an apparently new player in the “Exxon Knew” lawsuits show) is how the six days-later press release for it and a subsequent Reuters news item were noting how this was a “first-of-its-kind lawsuit seek[ing] financial compensation from oil and coal companies for marketing and selling carbon-based products that they intentionally misrepresented to the public.”

Ummmm ……. no. Just … no. Every one of these “Exxon Knew” lawsuits, in one variant or another, claims the fossil fuel industry knew the use of their products caused the harm of catastrophic global warming as they created disinformation campaigns to hide what they knew, with the ultimate goal being to be able to declare — as revealed in secret industry memos — “victory will be achieved when we reposition global warming as theory rather than fact.” That’s basically it; some lawsuits inexplicably never mentioned the “reposition global warming memos” even though those appeared to be more viable evidence than the much more lame “victory will be achieved” ‘truism’ memos. There’s really nothing new at all in this latest Puerto Rico filing, apart from its approach to the basic accusation surrounding those two memo sets, which I’ll detail in Part 2. The plaintiffs allege coordinated racketeering. Supported by supported by excerpts from industry communications, no less. Problem is, who are the real racketeers in the “Exxon Knew” show?

In this Part 1, I’ll illustrate how the sentences and related content in this new one surrounding the two memo sets is troublingly similar – when not outright identical – to what’s in the Sher Edling #16 lawsuit, Platkin v Exxon and that firm’s other copies, similar to the way I showed how that one shared its material with prior Sher Edling copies.

✓ Enslavement to ye olde “Reposition global warming”memos — Check. The never-implemented ones falsely attributed to the Western Fuels Association (WFA) “Information Council for the Environment” 1991 public relations campaign. At least the Platkin filing gets the official one-and-only ICE name right. Puerto Rico, not so much. The Sher Edling lawsuits repeat the main “reposition global warming” section from one state/city/municipality to the next. Give the Milberg law firm some credit for not having identical text surrounding their accusation – they rewrite that accusation, putting the bit about “older, less educated men” into a different paragraph, and they bring back the never-implemented audience targeting phrase about “younger, lower-income women,” which has been absent in Sher Edling copies after its 2017 Imperial Beach filing (same phrase Al Gore loved so much back in 1992, by the way). What’s essentially the same in this overall ICE memos paragraphs for these two separate firms? Every Sher Edling filing cites the Union of Concerned Scientists’ “Deception Dossiers.” Identical situation, for the Milberg firm.

✓ What to see where this Milberg Puerto Rico filing is nearly nearly word-for-word identical with the Sher Edling copies concerning the ICE campaign allegations, but where Milberg adds three words? It’s those “ICE ads” — Check – the ones I described in my dissection of Platkin, the horribly degraded photocopy scans from Greenpeace, where two of the ads, “Chicken Little” and “Doomsday Canceled” have an ICE name variant that was unsolicited. No need to look into the scan copies I saved from Greenpeace years back, the Milberg law firm itself shows the unsolicited name variant in one of the ads, when you zoom way into their filing page 111. They crop the bottom of the other ad, though. Where have we seen such cropping before? Oh, right, the problematic “Chicken Little” detail I first pointed out in my dissection of Sher Edling’s San Mateo/Marin/Imperial Beach v Chevron filings trio. Both of these ads were never published anywhere. But while the other one, “Most Serious Problem,” was inexplicably and basically disingenuously cropped by the Sher Edling firm, the Milberg firm includes* the basically impossible to read text … and shuffles the order of the images.

* (Rather than add any helpful, damaging clarity to the ICE ads situation, the Milberg firm only joins a hole-digging effort started by UCS back in 2015, and technically also the Sher Edling law firm. Where does the Milberg firm say the full image “Most Serious Problem” ad and the others source from? It’s actually unclear, from its footnote #367’s reference to #363. The filing’s prior page footnote #363 is actually for a cryptic “May 7, 1991 correspondence from E. Erie to O. Mark DeMchele,” having no source. It could be a typo that was meant for the supra of UCS, which is #364 citing page 20 of the UCS Dossiers that doesn’t mention the ICE ads. UCS’ page 19 does, showing no illustrations of the ads, instead describing a “Flat Earth” ad that (likely sourced from Desmogblog’s copy of Naomi Oreskes’ 2008-era Powerpoint presentation) – was never published in any newspaper. Not stated in UCS’ Dossiers compilation cited by Milberg, but seen elsewhere at UCS – namely their PDF files links – is the Pandora’s Box that this Milberg Puerto Rico filing inadvertently opens up for the Sher Edling firm with their “correspondence from E. Erie to O. Mark DeMchele” bit. That’s seen within their ICE docs scans PDF file, where in its PDF page 41, Milberg’s “E. Erie to O. Mark DeMchele is actually Arizona Public Service’s De Michele and Edison Electric’s Bill Brier — as proven in UCS’ page 35. Meanwhile, the aforementioned “Most Serious Problem” newspaper ad is seen in UCS’ PDF page 47 with text at the bottom. So the simple question is, when Sher Edling featured those identical ad scans, from 2017’s San Mateo v Chevron to 2022’s Platkin v Exxon sourced out of the same UCS PDF file …. why did they choose to crop the ad text out of the “Most Serious Problem” ad? On top of all that, why didn’t either law firm provide a link to the ad in its full newspaper-published context where readers could zoom into the text and decide for themselves whether the ads contained sinister disinformation? I do.)

But, I digress. Meanwhile, onward in the 16 Sher Edling boilerplate copy filings / Milberg Puerto Rico comparison:

✓ Reference to the “Richard Lawson” memo separated by two or less paragraphs from the “reposition global warming” memos, e.g. in Honolulu v Sunoco, which begs for trouble with its citation of Naomi Oreskes. And in Milberg Puerto Rico? Almost nearly identicalCheck. By the way, who else looks nearly identical to this? The supposedly “independently-led City of Hoboken v Exxon filing. How ’bout that?

✓ Enslavement to ye olde 1998 American Petroleum Institute (API) “victory will be achieved” memos — Check. This set, despite being a set of basic truisms that could be mirror-flipped to suit Greenpeace, are so beloved that even two members of “the Squad” love them, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-Mn). In the Sher Edling pile, the’ve been enslaved to that set, again, from San Mateo to Platkin, and even the Minnesota v API lawsuit they are supposedly just assisting has it. In their boilerplate copies, they cite an innocuous-looking “document cloud” weblink which, with just a slight change in the elements of the web address, turns out to be a document upload from Kert Davies when he worked at Greenpeace. MN v API just skips that middleman effort and directly cites Davies’ ClimateFiles page. This Milberg Puerto Rico filing is not merely also enslaved to the “victory will be achieved” memos, they’ve turned it into a literal Federal case (hold onto that collective thought until my Part 2 dissection). This filing doesn’t regurgitate words practically verbatim about these memos, but they do dig a really huge hole for themselves when they don’t immediately* say at all what their source is for the API memos is, and when they make the hugely troubling statement “Retyped for clarity.” Gosh, whatever could be wrong with the lousy scan copies the Sher Edling filings were provided with, or the source of those scans? [*Author’s 9/21/23 clarification: Oh, they do get to it eventually, three pages later, with a link to Inside Climate News’ copy of the memos, which are identical to Kert Davies’ 2013 Greenpeace-uploaded copy.]

✓ AG Platkin’s reference to a particular narrative about ‘Big Oil’ bankrolling climate scientists Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, e.g. in Charleston v Brabham Oil. Milberg Puerto Rico? IdenticalCheck, but with more RICO conspiracy-angled words. Identical cited material about Soon and Baliunas — Check, but with alternative web links. By the way, who else looks nearly identical to this? The supposedly “independently-led “Vermont v. Exxon” filing. No joke, which provides exactly zero citation sources for any of its assertions.

✓ One more, to emphasize the point, on a shared document – beginning to current end, from San Mateo to Platkin – that I spotted but haven’t previously pointed to in my dissections of the 16 Sher Edling boilerplate copies: 2017 San Mateo Joseph Carlson Exxon doc / 2022 Platkin Joseph Carlson doc, each going to the identical innocuous-looking “documentcloud” source for the memo. Milberg Puerto Rico? Reworded a bit, but nevertheless included — Check. But Milberg Puerto Rico skirts the hidden middleman and directly cites Kert Davies’ Climate Files page. It’s the same document, down to the inverted “University of Texas at Austin” label. Again, the Milberg firm stirs trouble by prompting the question of why Sher Edling seems to hide who their docs source is part of the time – the same source they acknowledged elsewhere, who has worthless docs in his scans pile? Oh, wait, who else already stirred trouble over two years ago about the Sher Edling firm not exactly being fully transparent in this “Joseph Carlson Exxon doc” situation? Why, the supposedly independent Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP and Krovatin Nau LLC law firms, since they eliminated the same “documentcloud” middleman in their Hoboken v Exxon filing. Who else has the Carlson memo? The supposedly “independently-led Connecticut v. Exxon” filing … which provides exactly zero citation sources for any of its assertions. How ’bout that?

See the big problem here, overall? Who is it that’s overseeing / writing / back-room promoting / coordinating these lawsuits that are built entirely on “Exxon Knew” about global warming since the ’70s (but not about cooling) and literally worthless documents purporting expose how fossil fuel executives hid this by repositioning global warming facts as ‘disinformation theory’ and felt ‘victorious’ doing so?

Do we really have a “wave” of #ExxonKnew lawsuits, practically a doubling of communities suing Big Oil …. or could this whole pile be consolidated into one giant single lawsuit titled “John Passacantando, Kert Davies, et al. [dba Greenpeace USA née Ozone Action / Our Next Economy / CIC] v. Exxon & any other applicable energy companies”?
Next, in Part 2: “The Coal Defendants’ publicity plan called for placing these three scientists, along with fellow climate change denier S. Fred Singer … in broadcast appearances, op-ed pages, and newspaper interviews by its public relations firm.” Oops. (Two questions: Isn’t there some kind of law against knowingly making false statement with malice or with reckless regard of whether it was true or false? And has any plaintiff ever won a Federal case when their attorneys cite Wikipedia as an evidence source?)