A powerful industrial lobby group has moved to withdraw from a landmark climate change lawsuit brought against the federal government by 21 young people, arguing that it trusts the Trump administration to fight the case.
In a surprise reversal, the National Association of Manufacturers filed court documents on Monday saying it no longer wanted to fight alongside the federal government in the children’s lawsuit.
The lawsuit argues that young people have been harmed by the failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming.
The organization stands by its original position, its senior vice president and general counsel, Linda Kelly, said in a statement to The Washington Post.
But she said that — after joining the lawsuit during the Obama administration — the business organization was now confident that the Trump administration would strongly defend the case. That made it less of a priority for the manufacturing association, she said.
“After every election, the NAM evaluates what cases we need to be involved in to protect manufacturers’ interests. As the dynamics have changed over the last several months, we no longer feel that our participation in this case is needed to safeguard industry and our workers,” said Kelly.
But activists suggested the group’s request to withdraw was a sign that industry was feeling uneasy about landing up on the opposite of the children who brought the lawsuit — as well as sweeping requests for information from their lawyers.
The court is not required to grant the organization permission to withdraw from the lawsuit. The case is expected to go to trial before the end of 2017.
Two other industry associations, the American Petroleum Institute, the main oil lobby, and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, remain involved in the case.
Activists have suggested that the organization’s request to withdraw from the lawsuit was prompted by a May 25 deadline to respond to various questions posed by lawyers for the children.
In seeking to exit the landmark case, the manufacturing association avoids having to answer questions submitted by the plaintiffs, which were expected to press NAM about its positions on climate change.
This would mean stating whether they agree with the basic principles in the case, including that CO2 influences the climate, that fossil fuel extraction has been responsible for elevated levels of CO2, and that greenhouse gas pollution endangers the health of current and future generations.
“They don’t want to take a public position on the facts of climate change,” said Julia Olson, an attorney representing the young people. She added that the association would have been at risk of having to produce confidential documents on its internal discussions on climate change if it stayed in the case.
The young people, aged 9 to 21, bought the case to the District Court in Oregon in August 2015, while President Barack Obama was in office.
All three organizations applied to intervene in the lawsuit, arguing at the time that they did not believe their interests would be adequately represented by the Obama administration.
They pointed to concern over emissions regulations and other measures implemented in Washington, D.C., which they said were at odds with their own interests.
NAM intervened to fight the litigation in January 2016, arguing that constraints on fossil fuel production would directly harm the businesses they represent.
The group, which includes ExxonMobil, Devon Energy and Arch Coal among its members, was a long-standing opponent of climate change regulations, including Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
Frank Volpe, an attorney for the business groups, said at proceedings on Thursday that, as well as NAM, “there may be another and maybe all three” who decide to leave the case, although neither association has yet confirmed their position.
API told The Washington Post that they do not comment on pending litigation.
While many of the businesses represented by NAM have independently opposed action on climate change, others have spoken out about the dangers posed by burning fossil fuels, supported the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce emissions, and made steps toward sustainability themselves.
Olson suggested NAM was under pressure from those members unhappy at the organization’s efforts to block Obama-era regulations.
“It’s very likely there’s disagreement among the members of NAM,” she said.
Most NAM members contacted by The Washington Post, including Shell, BP, Intel, Proctor & Gamble, Boeing, and Toyota, on whether they attempted to influence the decision to withdraw from the lawsuit did not respond in time for publication.
General Electric and Microsoft refused to comment, and a spokeswoman for American Electric Power said they did not have any discussions with NAM about the case.