Florida Justice Reform Institute, Logo

Florida Record

Fort Lauderdale says it has no intention of filing suit against fossil fuel companies over climate change

By John Breslin | May 6, 2019


Fort Lauderdale officials say their 165 miles of canals, which serve as a drainage
are no longer effective against rising seas and heavier rainfalls. City of Fort Lauderdale

FORT LAUDERDALE - Efforts by environmental groups to encourage Florida cities and counties to sue fossil fuel companies appear to be foundering as one city lobbied says it has no intention of filing one.

Municipalities, counties, and even states have filed suits against oil and gas companies, including giants such as Exxon, claiming the companies knew that burning fossil fuels contributed to damaging climate change, but concealed the information.

Last October, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission heard from Earthrights International (ERI), a Washington D.C.-based environmental advocacy group involved in a number of similar suits in various parts of the country.

ERI appears to have worked with other groups in pushing cities in Florida to file suits, according to emails obtained by the Florida Record. One of those groups, the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD), was represented by Miami Beach lobbyist, Seth Platt, of LSN Partners.

Seth  Seth Platt, a lobbyist with LSN Partners.  

Representatives attempted to persuade the commission to file suit, arguing that fossil fuel companies should be liable for the cost to the municipality to combat the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels. It has not worked, yet.

"We have no intention of filing a lawsuit," Alain E. Boileau, city attorney, told the Florida Record after the city was asked for an update following last October's presentation.

Other government entities in south Florida were reported to be in contact with the environmental organizations, including Miami-Dade County

But a spokesperson for Mayor Carlos Gimenez told the Florida Record: “We’ve checked with the county attorney’s office, and there has been no discussion regarding any such lawsuits."

Another reported target was the City of Miami Beach. In a brief statement to the Florida Record,Mayor Dan Gelber's spokesperson, Melissa Berthier, said, "Regrettably, the City of Miami Beach is disinclined to discuss this subject matter."

More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed across the country, from California, to Colorado, to New York City. Most are filed by coastal municipalities.

But, in one consequential decision, a suit filed by San Francisco and Oakland arguing under public nuisance laws was dismissed by a federal court in California.

Judge William Alsup, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, found that the issue of climate change “deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case." An appeal was filed.

Some of the suits involved ERI, which promises to help organize legal action at no cost to a municipality. The group managed to secure a hearing before the Fort Lauderdale City Commission last October.

ERI program director Marco Simons, told the commissioners the suits “primarily seek reimbursement for some of the costs of adapting to climate change and its impacts - which likely requires billions of dollars for Fort Lauderdale.”

"It is that the fossil fuel industry, for years, pursued a strategy of reckless production while knowing that it would result in serious climate impacts - and both concealing and misleading the public about that knowledge,” Simons said.

Emails were sent earlier in the year to Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis and his chief of staff, Scott Wyman, referring to upcoming meetings.

One sent in June was from lobbyist Platt, who stated his client was IGSD. One of its projects, the Center for Climate Integrity, is headed by Richard Wiles, who also publishes Climate Liability News (CLN).

The Center for Climate Integrity's "central goal is to accelerate corporate and governmental policy changes that speed the energy transition from fossil fuels to clean energy sources and that otherwise contribute to a safe climate," according to the IGSD. "One way to advance this goal is to require fossil fuel producers to bear the cost of the damage caused by their products."

Platt, in an email June 2018, referring to an upcoming meeting, stated his client was trying to collaborate with an organization called the Environmental Research Institute and an individual, Jorge Mursuli, whom he said was working with the City of Miami to file a lawsuit against the fossil fuel companies.

"I have invited Jorge Mursuli to the meeting," Platt wrote in the email, which also contained a run down of relevant information, including ongoing cases and a survey of Florida residents, which he wrote "overwhelmingly support making polluters pay."

The second email, from Mursuli to the mayor, with Wyman and Platt cc'd, was sent in the middle of July and also referred to an upcoming meeting. Mursuli made clear that ERI "(not Environmental Research Institute) was leading the efforts to explore the possibility of litigation."

He added that "it makes sense that our lead counsel at Earthrights comes see you and your team to best discuss potential strategy."

Platt is registered as a lobbyist in Fort Lauderdale for IGSD, but not ERI. He did not reply to several messages asking for comment. 

William Large, of the Florida Justice Reform Institute said many want to blame a problem on a "company with deep pockets."

"An essential element of every tort case is ‘causation',” Large told the Florida Record. "There is no evidence that fossil fuel companies ‘caused’ climate change. As such, these type of lawsuits lack merit.”