Left’s “Sue-Till-Green” Strategy Comes to PA

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When climate activists use the term “environmental justice,” they mean it literally. Rather than legislating and passing laws (as is customary in a constitutional republic), they’ve turned to the courts to fight their quixotic battles.

Pennsylvania is no stranger to litigating climate-related policies.

The Keystone State’s history with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), for example, has been nothing but litigious. The legal battle began when Governor Tom Wolf unconstitutionally entered Pennsylvania into the multistate compact. A Commonwealth Court ruled that Wolf’s executive order constituted an illegal tax, but Wolf’s successor, Governor Josh Shapiro, appealed the decision, prolonging the legal limbo.

RGGI is part of a larger “sue-till-green” strategy sweeping the nation and gaining momentum in Pennsylvania. The strategy began to take shape in 2012, when the Climate Accountability Institute hosted a pivotal conference in La Jolla, California. The gathering discussed a new approach to climate activism, mirroring the campaign against Big Tobacco—but this time targeting the oil and gas industry.

The goal: to effectively revoke the oil and gas industry’s “social license to operate.” Ultimately, this approach inundates oil and gas companies with legal fees and, together with other “green” policies, artificially raises the cost of reliable energy and subsidizes the production of less-reliable alternative energy sources.

Since then, climate radicals have created a centralized, interconnected network of operatives to file suits against the gas and oil industry nationwide. More than two dozen local and state government jurisdictions filed lawsuits on purely ideological grounds, seeking hundreds of billions of dollars in damages.

This legal onslaught has become a cash cow for law firms. The Center for Climate Integrity (CCI), which offers an array of environmental-centric advocacy services, attracts deep-pocket donors, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Hewlett Foundation, and JPB Foundation. Together, these organizations grant money through the Collective Action Fund for Accountability, Resilience, and Adaptation, a donor-advised fund established to support cases by law firms focused on climate alarmism.

CCI isn’t alone. Local activist groups—Penn Environment, Breathe Project, Conservation Voters of PA, and Clean Air Council—make up a sophisticated network, with many linked to national organizations. These larger organizations start and fund the local-level subsidiaries, creating the appearance of grassroots engagement.

Increasingly, activists target swing states with significant gas and oil production. In July 2023, CCI published “Pennsylvania’s Looming Climate Cost Crisis.” This report attempts to attach a price tag (or quantifiable damage claim) on supposed climate change impacts in the Keystone State.

CCI doesn’t shy away from its intent to sue. CCI President Richard Wiles said that filing a climate-damages lawsuit in Pennsylvania would be a “cherry on top.”

One Pennsylvania community, Bucks County, took the bait. In March 2024, Bucks became the first county in Pennsylvania to sue a group of oil companies for “their alleged role in global warming.”

Wiles sees the Bucks County lawsuit as just the sounding whistle, hinting to local news that “it likely won’t be the last.” In April, CCI pitched ideas to the Allegheny County Council and the Pittsburgh City Council.

The sue-till-green strategy is gaining popularity on the political stump. Eugene DePasquale, a candidate for Pennsylvania attorney general, campaigns as the climate-action candidate who will take on “corporate polluters.”

The advocacy also pushes convoluted legal theories in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia district attorney Larry Krasner recently expressed concern about “climate homicide,” a fringe concept that suggests prosecuting fossil-fuel companies for “killing members of the public at an accelerating rate.”

What’s really endangered here is Pennsylvanians’ livelihoods. When it comes to energy, Pennsylvania is the “Saudi Arabia of the Northeast.” Criminalizing one of the commonwealth’s largest industries will lead only to higher energy costs, fewer jobs, reduced exports, and an unreliable power grid.

The self-proclaimed champion of democracy, the Left intentionally violates the “democratic norms” it claims to cherish by bypassing the deliberative processes where public issues belong. Climate radicals increasingly abuse the courts as an arena to penalize and shut down America’s energy sector, employing judges—not elected representatives—to codify their fever dreams of a future without hydrocarbons.

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