By Karen Savage
A model bill written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), ostensibly in response to the COVID-19 crisis, could have big implications for climate liability litigation.
The group, whose membership includes several oil majors as well as trade associations, lobbying groups and PR firms associated with the fossil fuel industry, produced the model legislation for state governments. It doesn’t specifically mention the ongoing pandemic, but it limits civil liability for corporations and their employees after a declared disaster or public emergency, provided the company “complied with or made a good faith effort” to comply with federal, state or local regulations.
As currently written, the model Liability Protection for Employers in a Declared Disaster or Public Emergency Act would not apply retroactively, but if passed by state legislators, could prohibit the filing of future climate-related litigation in municipalities that declare climate emergencies.
At least 98 U.S. municipalities have declared climate emergencies, including several that have already filed climate liability lawsuits against fossil fuel companies attempting to hold them accountable for their role in climate change.
“It’s possible that was designed to use this crisis in order to thwart future lawsuits about the devastating climate changes that are underway or other liability in in the midst of other crises that may be caused by those very businesses and their decisions,” said Lisa Graves, founder and executive director of True North Research, a policy research group.
ALEC, which has been called a “corporate bill mill,” writes and shares model bills, or policy, with state legislators, who are encouraged to copy and paste wording into bills they sponsor. Once bills are introduced, ALEC representatives help state lawmakers with background research and work to strategize ways to get the proposed legislation passed into state law.
Oil majors Chevron, Marathon, and Koch Industries—which have all been named in climate-related litigation—are current ALEC members, as are several railroads, public relations firms, trade associations, lobbying groups and others associated with the fossil fuel industry.[Read more…]