Climate Change

California Looking for More Chances to Punish Businesses over Climate Change Positions

Some want to legally target those who donate to think tanks that encourage skepticism.

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Kamala Harris
Source: Kamala Harris for Senate

California Attorney General Kamala Harris is promoting herself in her Senate run by talking about fights against "big oil" and for the big financial settlements she helped arrange in the wake of the housing bubble bursting (though her claim that she has gotten billions for "homeowners" is not quite accurate).

During her stint as attorney general, Harris made sure to send out a press release for any settlement or lawsuit targeting corporate or business interests, as well as for any sex trafficking or "revenge porn" cases. Sometimes there have been ethical issues with how these cases have been pursued in attempts to get paydays for the state (and Kamala's office). I highlighted a particularly nasty case in 2015 where a federal court intervened in an attempt to hold a lumber company responsible for a wildfire that may well have been started by a government official. Federal judges have blasted California prosecutors for misconduct and the presentation of false evidence in trials.

I'm dredging all this up not just to remind folks of Harris' record, but because the state actually appears to be mulling over legislation to expand opportunities for the state to go after corporate interests and claim that it's all for the benefit of the environment. Walter Olson (a Cato fellow and Reason contributing editor) takes note in his Overlawyered blog that there's a bill under consideration that would revive possible lawsuits against businesses that the state believes were deliberately concealing evidence of global warming in the past. These are cases that the state could currently not pursue because the statute of limitations for these alleged violations has passed. As Olson points out, this is all in connection with the effort by some states to launch an environmental inquisition against critics of various approaches to dealing with climate change:

Combined with the plans laid by California Attorney General Kamala Harris — part of the alliance of AGs that has sought to investigate not only oil, gas, and coal companies, but private advocacy groups and university scientists who have played a role in what is characterized as "climate denial" — the bill would begin laying the legal groundwork for an astonishingly broad campaign of inquisition and, potentially, expropriation. The bill was approved by a subcommittee and was further amended May 10 to provide that climate science-related claims of any age would begin a four-year reviver period as of next January. [Northern California Record; the left-leaning Union of Concerned Scientists has a piece supporting the bill]

Section 2(b) of the bill declares it the California legislature's policy to promote "redress for unfair competition practices committed by entities that have deceived, confused, or misled the public on the risks of climate change or financially supported activities that have deceived, confused, or misled the public on those risks" [emphasis added] — a very clear signal that the target is public issue advocacy, and not merely (say) advertising that is directed at consumers in their capacity as buyers of gasoline at the pump. Last month, a federal court slapped down, as an unconstitutional burden on First Amendment rights, California Attorney General Kamala Harris's demand for the donor lists of nonprofits that carry on operations in California.

Reason's West Coast headquarters are in Los Angeles, and the Reason Foundation (which publishes this site) was listed among the subpoena targets in this effort to find people to punish for arguing in favor of "wrongthink." Needless to say, despite the fact that our science correspondent Ron Bailey is no climate change "denialist," it doesn't matter how he describes himself. What matters under this law would be how the California government perceives our history of writing about climate change, along with their perceptions of other think tanks and corporate interests in the state.

Also note the emphasis of attempting to reclassify speech and opinions as "business practices" in order to try to get around the First Amendment. Perhaps the greater concern to Reason and other think tanks is not that the state will attempt to attack us directly but will attempt to attack donors (particularly large business or corporate donors) on the basis of them giving us money.

Consider the larger consequences. I've written in opposition of using the law to forbid psychological conversion therapies to "cure" gay and transgender citizens. It's not because I believe this therapy works or is morally correct. In fact, I think it's the opposite. But it's a form of speech, and legally banning it puts the government in power of determining what positions in the constantly evolving field of psychology are valid. Regardless of the reasons behind my position, California has banned conversion therapy for minors. Does this mean that I have endorsed what the state of California has determined is an "unfair business practice"? Using the logic of this law, could the state end up in a place where they'll go after businesses who have donated money to Reason on the basis of what I've written?

Not only is this an attempt to try to find new ways to extract money from corporations and businesses, it is also clearly an effort to discourage these interest groups from donating money to nonprofit political organizations and think tanks that may oppose the positions held by those in the state who wield the most power. 

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  1. This is unsettling.

  2. I keep praying she goes the way of her fellow corrupt prosecutor turned politician Martha Coakley. Unfortunately California seems even dumber than Massachusetts.

    1. In order to emigrate to this state you must demonstrate the lack of a brain.

  3. They’d scream FIRST AMENDMENT real fast if they were sued for misleading business practices. After all, campaign speeches are the very heart of the business of running for office.

    1. It also reminds me that one of the reforms in “my” constitution is that politicians run for office with contracts; people don’t vote for the candidates themselves, but for the contracts they offer. This means that any broken contract promises are grounds for lawsuits. Of course these contracts would never make any solid claims, but that in itself would be a step for transparency, and some hardliners would make real claims, such as always voting to throw more people in jail, but I’m all for the idea.

  4. California Looking for More Chances to Punish Businesses over Climate Change Positions Encourage Relocation to Texas.

    Every month I hear about some large employer relocating part of their operations out of this state. It’s getting to the point that the only companies left are the ones that need to be here because they are in bed with the state government.

    1. I’m waiting for the major movie companies to split. They may be very liberal politically, but they like money even more.

      Hollywood became “Hollywood” because back when movies started being made, it was an excellent location because you could find a place to shoot a movie representing pretty much any climate anywhere in the world within a few hundred miles. It’s not necessary nowadays. Much of the filming has already left SoCal, and the companies are eventually going to follow.

      1. Juvenile Bluster|5.31.16 @ 12:33PM|#
        “I’m waiting for the major movie companies to split. They may be very liberal politically, but they like money even more.”

        Not sure they have to split, depending on where the headquarters are.
        Pretty sure the lefty twits supporting the sur-tax on $1m incomes often find themselves in their address of record not in CA.

      2. No, they moved to Hollywood because Edison would only rent cameras and wanted royalties. It was almost literally as far away as possible.
        From Wikipedia:

        Many independent filmmakers, who controlled from one-quarter to one-third of the domestic marketplace, responded to the creation of the MPPC by moving their operations to Hollywood, whose distance from Edison’s home base of New Jersey made it more difficult for the MPPC to enforce its patents.[6] The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is headquartered in San Francisco, California, and covers the area, was averse to enforcing patent claims.

        1. Well, I misspoke a bit. Edison wasn’t into renting specifically, he was just an uptight grubby patent holder trying to use government to enforce his monopoly.

        2. Fun fact: Star Film Ranch near San Antonio was one of the earliest movie studios. If they hadn’t moved to CA, who knows, San Antonio might have ended up being “Hollywood.”

    2. It’s too bad they bring their retard with them. Give it ten years and Texas will start enacting the same kind of bullshit policies that California did and the assholes will have the nerve to ask “Why are all the jobs moving to Mexico?”.

  5. I never thought I’d say this but getting a knuckle-dragging retard like trump in might be good, in that it will remind these people that these types of fucking oppressive tools are up for grabs to people who might not be as right-thinking as they are. But that won’t matter they will just double-down.

    1. I’ve been kind of thinking along the same lines. It’s almost almost enough to get me to support the Oompa Loompa Messiah.

      1. Gotta say, loving that nickname.

  6. Speaking of climate change, I received an e-mail this morning asking me to consider booking Gwynne Dyer to speak. I have never heard of him but, apparently, he is a journalist with a PhD in history and also served in the military (British I think). This qualifies him to be an expert on war and also on climate change. The blurb on his book Climate Wars includes:

    When you talk to the people at the sharp end of the climate business, there is an air of suppressed panic in many of the conversations. We are not going to get through this without taking a lot of casualties, if we get through it at all…

    Plus 2 degrees is the point of no return, because that will trigger the “feedbacks”, irreversible natural processes that will also cause global warming: an ice-free Arctic Ocean, the melting of the permafrost, and immense releases of carbon dioxide from the warming oceans. After that, we could cut our own greenhouse gas emissions to zero and find that the warming was still heading for plus five or six degrees Celsius. That would mean mass death.

    1. cont.

      The professional military everywhere have grasped that the first and biggest impact of global warming, for human beings, is on the food supply, and that countries in the tropics and the sub-tropics will suffer more and earlier than others. Even before +2C, that will generate huge numbers of refugees, of “failed states”, and of wars between countries that must share river systems. There will be lots of jobs for the military ? and the more chaotic the world gets, the less chance there is for a global agreement on curbing greenhouse gases.

      1. He wrote a book, back some time ago – “War”. My history professor/adviser ridiculed it mightily. Dyer tries to claim that all war is alike, soldiers are all the same andd always have been. As if some Athenian hoplite was the same as a Panzergrenadier as a Apache warrior.

        1. He was also a big deal on the CBC network in Canada back in the 80s and 90s, IIRC ? he was basically on the Ceeb’s producers’ speed-dial whenever they needed an “expert” on anything to do with armed conflict. Last time I saw him on the Ceeb was during the Iraq War, ’02/’03 or thereabouts.

          He’s a middling intellect, at best.

  7. This shows what a free country we have. In other countries, they can just ban speech. In the USA, because protections for freedom of speech are so strong & thorough, they have to try to figure out very devious ways to achieve what would otherwise be simple in the form of legal speech suppression.

    1. True and I would add, successful country. In that, we’ve run out of real problems to solve and now have to gin up fake issues. Like football brain and killer ape – not that they’re not important, but is that really what we’re gonna get all self-righteous about? I say we go after the addiction deniers – they are the real threat to civilization.

  8. they’ll go after businesses who have donated money to Reason on the basis of what I’ve written?

    This is like the worst fund-raising appeal ever.

    More seriously… this is indeed chilling. I just Matt Welch’s intro in the current issue which mentions her and also NY (surprise) pulling this totalitarian crap.

  9. Kozinski demanded to know why the informant and the testifying prosecutor were not charged with perjury. He suggested the state bar should pull the law license of the prosecutor who presented the evidence

    Oh Alex, that’s rich.

  10. What part of ends being more important than means are you people not getting?

    Principles and rule of law and whatnot are for when the other guys are in charge.

  11. RE: California Looking for More Chances to Punish Businesses over Climate Change Positions
    Some want to legally target those who donate to think tanks that encourage skepticism.

    We cannot have free speech in Amerika, especially in our think tanks.
    We have all the right people in the right positions to do our thinking for us.
    That’s what socialism is for.
    That’s what socialism does.
    That’s what socialism is.
    Let us now all offer prayers and praise to the gods of Amerikan socialism.
    Amen.

  12. California Attorney General Kamala Harris ? part of the alliance of AGs that has sought to investigate not only oil, gas, and coal companies, but private advocacy groups and university scientists who have played a role in what is characterized as “climate denial”

    No one expects the Climate Inquisition.

  13. Reason’s West Coast headquarters are in Los Angeles, and the Reason Foundation (which publishes this site) was listed among the subpoena targets in this effort to find people to punish for arguing in favor of “wrongthink.”

    Reason might want to consider re-locating…

    1. I’m actually kind of surprised they haven’t yet.

  14. I wonder if Exxonn et al. could slap a surcharge on oil in the CA market (and others that have joined this lawsuit), in order to “fund the litigation”.

    1. They’d probably get slapped back with some bullshit “retaliation fine”.

      1. Or Exxon just gets full Chavez’ed as just compensation for, wait for it, committing a Climate (Carbon?) Crime.

  15. Kamala Harris looks mighty fine in a leather skirt, so she just might get my vote. A man needs to keep his priorities straight.

  16. Even more disturbing is that this and the AG prosecutions of Exxon are trying to prosecute for actions that no-one could have known were illegal when they were committed, a violation of every principle of law. For the Exxon prosecution, they want documents from 20 yrs ago. It is like putting up a stop sign and then prosecuting people who didn’t stop there last year.
    It is very clever of them to announce their victories against the companies successfully employing millions of Californians. Look at us! We are going to destroy your employer’s!

  17. Section 2(b) of the bill declares it the California legislature’s policy to promote “redress for unfair competition practices committed by entities that have deceived, confused, or misled the public on the risks of climate change or financially supported activities that have deceived, confused, or misled the public on those risks”

    There is a clear history of financially supported deception and misleading the public about the risks for climate change but I don’t think it’s who they think it is.

  18. You would be a stupid business to stay in California. It’s just a matter of time before the state comes after you.

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