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Opinion: We need more elected officials who seek real climate solutions — not lawsuits

As the need to address climate change mounts, public officials are considering a wide range of responses.

Most elected official are focusing on a dual track: stepping up efforts to develop cleaner-burning energy sources and creating incentives for manufacturers to innovate new green technologies so that all of us can use fuel more efficiently. This is the right path.

A few officials, including right here in Colorado, have chosen a less productive path. 

Mark Cordova

They are suing energy manufacturers for selling us the energy we use, saying that climate change is all their fault and they need to do something about it.

Last year the City of Boulder, Boulder County and San Miguel Counties filed one of these lawsuits. They signed up for litigation that is being shopped around the country by out-of-state trial lawyers seeking to make money off of this shared, global challenge. This is the wrong path.

Fortunately, there are many voices of reason emerging in this debate — people who are focused on seeking real solutions.  One of them is Colorado’s Attorney General Phil Weiser

He opposes these lawsuits, saying he is “unconvinced” this litigation will be useful at all in the effort to deal with climate change. He continued that “the major reason that we have really reduced our carbon footprint here in Colorado is by moving from coal to natural gas,” so “it’s not an obvious move that we would hold liable oil and gas producers.”

Attorney General Weiser’s focus on solutions rather than blame makes sense. He is also right about the shift from coal to natural gas.

Nationally, the Energy Information Administration reported a 28% decrease in carbon emissions from power generation between 2005 and 2017. In fact, in 2016, greenhouse gas emissions were the lowest they had been since 1992

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Over the past few years, natural gas has also become the focal point for R&D into renewable and cleaner-burning fuel technology, including algae-based fuel, carbon capture and sequestration, and even solar or wind power generation.

We do not need to sacrifice economic growth and jobs to fight climate change. Just the opposite — we can develop our businesses around the fight against climate change.

Point in fact, Colorado is directly benefiting from this shift to natural gas. The state’s manufacturing output has been trending upward, providing jobs to 150,000 Coloradans. 

Oil and gas activity supports nearly 90,000 jobs in the state, both directly and indirectly in the retail, service and construction sectors.

This accounts for an estimated $13.5 billion of the state’s gross domestic product. A PricewaterhouseCoopers study estimates that, in all, leveraging natural gas will create 1.4 million new jobs in manufacturing by 2040. 

This is why the lawsuits against the oil and gas industry by local and state governments is so harmful. They would undermine the progress we are making and label the manufacturer and sale of these important energy sources as “public nuisances.”

In addition to Boulder’s lawsuit, about a dozen other lawsuits have been filed, including by New York City, San Francisco and Oakland. The good news is that judges are starting to dismiss these cases.

It turns out that the law also does not support the idea that selling or using energy makes one liable for global climate change.

And although several cities, including Boulder, have been successful in moving their lawsuits from federal court to state court, which could be seen as more favorable to their claims, the eventual outcome will likely be the same — dismissal.

It makes no difference which court hears these cases as climate change is a public policy issue best handled by elected legislators, not judges. 

We all want and need energy, whether to power our homes or our factories. We just want to figure out how to develop and use this energy more efficiently in order to save the environment.

Most state and local officials agree and are following Attorney General Weiser’s focus on real solutions. Earlier this year, the mayors of Atlanta, Portland, Oregon, and Columbia, South Carolina, testified before Congress about the innovative ways in which their cities are working in concert with the private sector to reduce emissions.

The state of California has grant programs for towns to develop climate plans.  These and other communities are taking steps that can actually make a difference. 

As manufacturers, we are eager to work with mayors and other public officials to help them meet the most ambitious of these plans to achieve effective climate solutions. 

We all are best served by pragmatic public officials from both parties who choose to focus on what will work going forward to address climate change instead of recrimination and costly court battles. 

Hopefully communities in Colorado will heed Attorney General Weiser’s caution and not follow Boulder down the lawsuit path. 

Mark Cardova is President of Centennial Bolt in Denver.

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