Global warming law is clearly a hot topic, and we here at Warming Law are happy to see other legal organizations, such as LexisNexis, follow us in spotlighting developments in this emerging area. But a featured post on the new LexisNexis Climate Change website raised our collective eyebrows.
The post chronicles a recent global warmng seminar held in Washington DC, by the law firm Gardere Wynne and Sewell, a Texas-based firm that has represented Exxon, Chevron, and other oil and gas industry clients. What's surprising is that the seminar apparently focused not on legal developments (which, as readers of this site know, have been pretty bad for Gardere's clients recently), but rather on "the chilling effects of global warming."
You see, according to the good folks at Gardere, the real problem here is not global warming, but rather "a progressive movement [which is] afoot to effect monumental change in the way Americans think." This movement, we're told, has taken on "a religious ferver" and now threatens to "stifle all forms of debate and dissent." And it is being led, in part, by "an organized trial bar" trying "to create massive controversies that involve no proven injuries to any one in particular and result in massive windfalls to contingent fee counsel." The seminar was designed as a rallying call to "the proponents of individual rights and a free-market system" to "get to the table and make their positions known."
It's remarkable to us that a law firm of Gardere's size and reputation would spout such malarky. First, there is no evidence that "non-green" views are being stifled, it's simply that with each passing day it becomes ever-more-clear that the world's scientic community is right about the need to respond to global warming and the handful of Exxon-funded global warming skeptics are wrong. Second, most proponents of "individual rights and the free-market system" recognize that no individual has the right to impose costs on his neighbors and the broader community and that the free-market does a poor job of regulating interstate and international externalities -- pollution that crosses state and national lines.
Finally, as to the claim that developments in global warming law are the product of an "organized trial bar," we note that every global warming case we know of has been either brought by industry (preemption cases) or by a coalition of states, local governments and environmental organizations (cases like Mass v. EPA, which seek to force a federal response). We're not aware of any global warming litigation brought by contingent fee trial lawyers.
If there are indeed "massive windfalls" to be had in bringing suits to reduce global warming pollution, the folks at Gardere should let us know (we could certainly find some friends in the legal profession to pursue them). Until then, we'd urge the Gardere to focus a bit more on the law and less on political screeds. We can only hope (in the spirit that even Exxon deserves good counsel) that they are better at the former than they are at the latter.