Activists Convinced Minnesota Attorney General To File Climate Lawsuit

By William Allison

A Minnesota activist group completely blew the cover of the entire climate litigation campaign by acknowledging how closely private individuals and organizations have coordinated with state attorneys general to promote lawsuits against fossil fuel companies.

For years, these activists have operated mostly in the shadows, attempting to shield their conversations and connections with government officials from public view.

So, it came as a surprise that during a webinar that was available for anyone to watch, the leader of Minnesota-based activist group Fresh Energy acknowledged to the entire world that his organization teamed up with Washington, D.C.-based Center for Climate Integrity to personally pitch Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to file a climate lawsuit, which he did against ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and Koch Industries in June 2020.

The news came from Michael Noble, the Executive Director of Fresh Energy, who said:

“I want to first just acknowledge that [Center for Climate Integrity] is a national organization that leads on this kind of climate liability, climate litigation. And they brought this concept to Fresh Energy in the fall of 2018, and Fresh Energy helped put this idea in front of Attorney General Keith Ellison shortly after he was sworn in.”

Noble then acknowledged that two Special Assistant Attorneys General placed in Ellison’s office from the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (SEEIC) had dedicated most of their time in that to the case:

“Attorney General Keith Ellison started considering this possibility as early as the fall of 2019, and attorney Leigh Currie and Pete Surdo have basically been working on this full-time over the last few months.”

Activists Have Gone To Great Lengths To Hide Their Roles

Noble’s admission might earn him a slap on the wrist from the national leaders of the climate litigation campaign who have taken great pains to hide nearly every aspect of their work including legal strategy, funding, and fake news.

The group of state attorneys general, including Minnesota, that banded together to pursue climate lawsuits were briefed by plaintiffs’ lawyer Matt Pawa right before their big press conference back in 2016 with former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and former Vice President Al Gore. After news of the briefing leaked, Pawa and Schneiderman’s office took great pains to cover their tracks.

To support the litigation campaign financially, a constellation of Rockefeller groups have provided the money and logistical support including a secretive conference in La Jolla, Calif. in 2012, lawyers to develop legal theories and coordinate with state attorneys general, and academics to gin up flawed scientific research.

The Rockefellers and others were also behind bought and paid for media meant to support the litigation campaign narrative while attempting to hide their role. InsideClimate News published its #ExxonKnew series, which was followed up with a nearly identical investigation done by students at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Leading Rockefeller officials later admitted they funded the Columbia work while InsideClimateNews received the original seed funding and continued support from the Rockefellers.

Minnesota Attorney General Benefits From Bloomberg-Funded Program

The other big admission from Noble reveals even more information about SEEIC, which is funded by Michael Bloomberg through the NYU Law School. The SEEIC developed a Fellow Program that placed Special Assistant Attorneys General (SAAG) into state attorneys general offices to work on environmental legal matters.

The Fellow Program pays the salary of the SAAG, and the website states that “the fellows’ sole duty of loyalty is to the attorney general in whose office he or she serves,” and they will work on “clean energy, climate and environmental matters.” Yet Noble’s admissions that the two Minnesota SAAGs “have basically been working on this full-time over the last few months” indicates they were placed into Ellison’s office for the express purpose of supporting the climate litigation campaign.

This type of “law enforcement for rent” has generated numerous legal, ethical, and political criticisms, which has led the SEEIC to deemphasize the fellow program and state attorneys general to stop touting their association with the SEEIC.

The Minnesota Attorney General’s office even blocked open records requests seeking more information about its relationships with the SEEIC. But thanks to Mr. Noble, we see that the SEEIC Fellow Program is still alive and well.

Extensive Coordination

The webinar where Noble revealed this information had plenty of other well-known faces in attendance. Both Fresh Energy and the Center for Climate Integrity have received funding from Rockefeller groups – who have been behind the entire climate litigation campaign.

Later Noble said that “many of the groups on this call are being supported by the Center for Climate Integrity,” and another participant on the webinar was Sam Grant, the executive director for Minnesota 350, who was featured in Ellison’s press release announcing the lawsuit.

Both the comments from Noble and the wide range of participants on the webinar shows just how extensive the coordination is between government officials and private activist groups.