After three years of legal wrangling, a new front is opening up in the #ExxonKnew lawsuits, in which state attorneys general are suing ExxonMobil, alleging the company misled investors about the risks of climate change. On Friday, the Competitive Enterprise Institute sued the Board of Regents of the University of California under California’s Public Records Act looking for evidence connecting the UCLA Law school to secret meetings between environmentalists and donors to develop the legal theories behind these cases.
Public records obtained by CEI through Oregon state requests show that Cara Horowitz, co-executive director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law, participated in a 2016 private briefing at Harvard Law School. Co-hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the briefing, which was attended by academics, environmental activists, and employees of several state attorneys general offices, addressed “potential causes of action against major carbon producers.”
Blog posts from other participants at the event appear to indicate that Horowitz and her colleague, fellow Emmett Institute Co-Director Ann Carlson, participated in the discussions and a later panel in their capacity as UCLA faculty. Since, unlike Harvard, UCLA is a public institution, its records are searchable under state open records laws. Furthermore, use of public university staff for the promotion of a private, secret activist group attempting to shape public policy raises ethical concerns.
“This donor-funded scheme of using law enforcement to pursue a failed political agenda, raises significant constitutional and other legal issues, as well as ethics concerns. With the revelation that this involves the use of public institutions in this mercenary campaign, the public has a right to know what their employees are doing in their name, and on their dime,” said CEI Senior Fellow Chris Horner, who submitted the requests.
In other correspondence, the Harvard meeting was described as meeting with “funders” in which the participation of Horowitz and Carlson participated. Horner is concerned about the ethical implications of professors using their positions in this way.
“We have proved definitively that there is no ‘missing link’ between plaintiffs lawyers, donors, green groups and attorneys general,” he told InsideSources. He explained that the records disclosed so far have shown that state officials met and planned legal strategies with donors and environmentalists. Now he is after more information about connections between these groups and public universities.
“We also now know that donors are creating centers at universities to play a role as boiler-room strategists,” he continued.
Meanwhile, several state AGs offices have gone to great lengths to attempt to avoid disclosing information. As part of another FOIA lawsuit, then-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office submitted privilege logs listing correspondence withheld from the records request as “law enforcement” materials. These included correspondence on the subject of “company specific climate change information” with Tom Steyer and Rockefeller Family Fund Director Lee Wasserman. Dates on the documents show that this correspondence dated back some 9-10 months before Schneiderman filed the first subpoena.
CEI was forced to sue UCLA for relevant records after nearly a year of stonewalling by the university.
UCLA’s Emmett Institute was established ten years ago through a $10 million donation by real estate tycoon Dan A. Emmett and his family. It is the first law center dedicated specifically to the study, research and teaching of climate change issues specifically, rather than environmental law more broadly. Within the law school, the Emmett Institute’s advisory board includes representatives from environmentalist groups, including Earthjustice and the Center for Biological Diversity.
The lawsuit is just the latest salvo in a sweeping set of lawsuits involving several different open government groups working around the country. The more state attorneys general attempt to fight the requests, the less the meetings seem like business as usual.