Exxon Sends Undisclosed Agents to Question Opposing Counsel About Colorado Climate Litigation
"Western Wire" staff seek comment from attorneys representing Colorado municipalities suing Exxon for climate harms, without disclosing that they are agents of the oil giant
Location: Washington, DC
(202) 466 5188 x100
January 15, 2019. Washington, D.C. — Exxon-sponsored consultants posing as journalists attempted to question EarthRights International (ERI) General Counsel Marco Simons, who represents three Colorado communities in climate change litigation against the oil giant, over email and in a recorded phone call yesterday.
“Western Wire” describes itself as “the go-to source for news, commentary and analysis on pro-growth, pro-development policies across the West,” but is staffed by a public relations firm under a contract to the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), a secretive oil and gas association. They were established in 2017 and publish stories that portray the climate lawsuits as a “conspiracy.” WEA does not disclose its members – but its board includes an Exxon executive, Greg Pulliam.
Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder sued Exxon and Suncor last year for their role in contributing to climate change harms, and ERI represents the communities in court. Because legal ethics rules prohibit attorneys from talking with agents of opposing parties without their attorneys present, Simons refused to talk with the Western Wire staff “if you’re representatives of Exxon in any way.” While the Western Wire staff said they did not know the members of WEA – the organization that sponsors them – they did not dispute that they were representatives of Exxon.
The Western Wire staff involved are Michael Sandoval and Matt Dempsey, listed as Western Wire’s “Managing Editor” and “Opinion Editor,” respectively. Neither, however, is a journalist. Dempsey is listed on the website of FTI Consulting as a Managing Director of Strategic Communications. Sandoval’s name is not listed on FTI’s website, but his LinkedIn page lists him as a Director of Strategic Communications at FTI, and he was reached through FTI’s general phone number. In fact, Sandoval confirmed that Western Wire was staffed by employees of FTI Consulting under a contract to WEA.
Western Wire is not the only fossil fuel company front group. ERI has produced a fact sheet on several industry initiatives to present misleading information.
The Colorado climate litigation is still in the early stages. Suncor and Exxon moved the case to federal court, and the plaintiffs are now seeking to return the case to Colorado state court, where it was initially filed. Several other cities, counties and states across the country have filed similar climate accountability lawsuits in the past year and a half. ERI is joined in representing the plaintiffs by David Bookbinder, Chief Legal Counsel of the Niskanen Center, and Kevin Hannon of the Hannon Law Firm LLC.
For more information about the Colorado climate accountability lawsuit and these communities’ efforts to fight climate change, please see:
From San Miguel County: https://www.sanmiguelcountyco.gov/514/Climate-Accountability
From the City of Boulder: https://bouldercolorado.gov/climate