PA groups urge Allegheny County Council against demonizing oil companies

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A contingent of groups representing manufacturing, businesses, energy, and labor in Pennsylvania on Monday urged the Allegheny County Council against jumping on the lawsuit bandwagon with Bucks County, which recently sued several major oil companies, alleging they have for decades intentionally deceived the public about their chief product’s role in accelerating the climate crisis.

“Pinning the blame of global climate change on one or 30 American companies is not just bad for business, it’s a slippery slope,” wrote Manufacturer & Business Association Vice President Jezree Friend, Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association President and CEO David Taylor, and Jeff Nobers, executive director of Pittsburgh Works Together, in an April 8 open letter sent to the Allegheny County Council.

“If any court gives credence to these lawsuits, what will stop activists and trial attorneys from ticking down the list and going after the next industry they deem culpable?” they wrote. “Climate change requires a more thoughtful response from our elected leaders than the blame game and a cash grab.”

Specifically, the groups’ leaders urged Allegheny County against filing a lawsuit similar to one filed on March 25 by Bucks County, which became the first in the Commonwealth to take legal action against the fossil fuel industry.

The Bucks County lawsuit, filed at the county’s Court of Common Pleas, alleges that BP, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Phillips 66, Shell, and the American Petroleum Institute (API) have for decades led campaigns to cover up the environmental risks of their products.

Bucks County claims it has suffered increasingly severe weather events due to these actions and seeks monetary damages to cover the costs associated with storm damage, including to replace bridges and fund stormwater management products, according to the lawsuit.

“In Bucks County we understand it is our responsibility to be good stewards of the environment, and with the public’s support, this administration has established the county as a regional leader on environmental issues,” said Bucks County Commissioner and Vice Chair Bob Harvie during a March 25 press conference announcing the lawsuit.

“It is unconscionable that while we were working hard to reduce our impact on the climate crisis, some of the biggest companies in the world were deliberately undercutting those efforts through their deceptive business practices,” Harvie added.

But according to the Manufacturer & Business Association, the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, and Pittsburgh Works Together, these “activists” don’t care about the impacts of such lawsuits on Pennsylvanians.

“The state is just one stop on their nationwide road show,” wrote the groups’ leaders. “Last year, these activists brazenly admitted that a lawsuit in the Commonwealth would be the ‘cherry on top’ of their efforts. Councilmembers: don’t be another shiny prize in their trophy case.”

Their letter comes in advance of an April 10 Allegheny County Council meeting at which council members are scheduled to hear a presentation from the Center for Climate Integrity, an organization that has been pushing these lawsuits nationwide.

“Rather than providing a one-sided platform for out-of-state interests, we urge you to commit to an open, robust, transparent process that prioritizes input from in-state stakeholders, including Pennsylvania workers, manufacturers, and consumers,” wrote Friend, Taylor, and Nobers.

They also pointed out that it doesn’t take a lawyer to know that filing a lawsuit won’t solve climate change and it won’t prevent natural disasters or rehabilitate old infrastructure.
“It will, however, drive up the cost of energy for Pennsylvanians, waste taxpayer dollars, and demonize an industry that is a crucial economic driver for our state,” they wrote.

For instance, oil and gas companies in Allegheny County are the economic engine behind many of the county’s cornerstone public and private development projects, according to the letter. The ongoing $1.1 billion renovation project at Pittsburgh International Airport, which is being financed through royalties and revenues from natural gas production, and drilling beneath Deer Lakes Park in Tarentum that has already generated $15 million for infrastructure and park improvements, are prime examples, according to the groups.

“It’s the companies providing these significant county benefits that activists wish to sue into bankruptcy,” wrote Friend, Taylor, and Nobers.

At the same time, they wrote, the availability of consistent and affordable energy, along with the many direct and indirect jobs in the oil and gas industry, are on the line. Half a million Pennsylvanians are employed by the state’s manufacturing industry, which depends on natural gas — much of it sourced from the state’s own shale basins — to produce all kinds of durable and consumable goods, says the letter.

“These aren’t abstract concerns. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake, and an even greater sum in wages, sales, and tax revenue,” wrote Friend, Taylor, and Nobers.

They asked Allegheny County Council members to make it known across the state that “ideological lawfare” won’t gain any more ground in Pennsylvania. “We urge you to make the right choice for your constituents,” wrote the leaders.

Chevron and API also have publicly denounced the Bucks County lawsuit.