U.S. state officials urge Garland to reverse Trump positions on climate deception cases

FILE PHOTO: Then-Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland speaks during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington, DC, U.S., February 22, 2021. Al Drago/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The attorneys general of five U.S. states and the District of Columbia on Monday called on President Joe Biden’s Justice Department to withdraw legal briefs filed in support of fossil fuel companies in litigation during the Trump administration, arguing they contradict the new president’s position on climate change.

The top law enforcement officials of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking him to inform courts that the Justice Department no longer supports those briefs in pending litigation.

“Those positions are not only misplaced - as almost all the courts to consider them have ruled to date - but also directly contravene President Biden’s 2020 pledge to ‘strategically support ongoing plaintiff-driven climate litigation against polluters,’” the letter said.

The states have filed lawsuits against the oil industry here alleging that companies have violated state consumer protection and deception laws by downplaying the risks of climate change or "greenwashing" their image by portraying themselves as part of the solution.

Their attorneys general argue that the fact that the Trump-era DOJ amicus briefs are still on record lets oil companies prolong the litigation and argue that cases should be moved to federal courts rather than state courts.

Industry prefers that federal courts weigh these cases because it argues that federal laws pre-empt any claim under state law that carbon emissions from fossil fuels cause climate change and related damages.

The state officials said those briefs undermine their “efforts to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for harms caused in our states - to our consumers, our investors, our infrastructure, our real property, and our natural resources.”

The Justice Department was not immediately available for comment.

The Supreme Court is deliberating a lawsuit filed by the city of Baltimore against energy companies and weighing whether that case and others like it should be heard in a state court or in a federal court. The city is seeking monetary damages due to the impact of global climate change.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis