- California Cities File Lawsuit Against Big Oil Due to Costs of Climate Change
- Cities Struggle to Predict Specific Results Detailing Climate Change
- Politicians’ Actions Fail to Reflect Stances Taken Against Climate Change
In the latest Drill Down, Peter Schweizer investigates the discrepancy between the rhetoric politicians use when describing the threats of climate change and the reality as described in the municipal bond disclosures.
Politicians sound the alarm about the threat of climate change, but when it actually comes to costing them money, they sing a very different tune.
Hi, I’m Peter Schweizer, and this is the Drill Down. Where we Drill Down on key figures in the federal government.
The supposedly dire threat of climate change is a dominant subject in our political discourse these days. Some politicians, like freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have even compared it to World War II.[i] Many Democrats, including mayors of major cities, have called it an “existential” threat. Billions of dollars have been spent on climate summits, climate action plans, and green energy technology.
But here at the Government Accountability Institute, we decided to look into it in other ways; how cities and their leaders might be addressing this existential threat.
And let’s just say, based on our findings, the bond between their words and actions is not nearly as solid as it seems.
In 2017, a number of cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, filed a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil and other oil companies for damages relating to climate change. In the lawsuit, the cities used very specific language on the future costs of the environmental collapse. The city of Oakland, for example, said it expected to see “66 inches of sea level rise by 2100” and that the cost to the city’s sewer system and other property would range between 22 billion and 38 billion dollars.[ii]
That’s pretty apocalyptic, but do they really believe that? Well, let’s check.
It turns out that Oakland, for example, sings a very different tune when it comes to the naming of risk disclosures in its municipal bonds. Those disclosures, in which the cities are legally obligated to mention any circumstances that would prevent them from paying back their bonds, claim the city is “unable to predict when” changes in sea level rise would occur, their impact, or even whether “they will have material adverse effect on… the City” at all.[iii]
San Mateo County, California made similar claims in its lawsuit, citing a “93% chance of a devastating 3-foot flood by 2050.”[iv] But in their financial disclosures, where they’re legally required to tell the truth, they backed off considerably. They admitted they were “unable to predict whether sea level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding will occur.”[v]
And these cities are hardly alone. Our investigation reveals that many mayors and local leaders say one thing when advancing their politics, but say something very different when it really counts. Like when they’re issuing building permits.
Consider New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio. He’s been an outspoken leader in the fight against climate change, filing a lawsuit against petroleum companies[vi] and entering New York City into the Paris Climate Accord.[vii] He called climate change a “dagger aimed at the heart of his city”.[viii] But when it comes to New York’s bond disclosures, that threat gets little mention. In the cities’ 2018 Bond disclosure, a 297-page document, Climate Change was mentioned in only four paragraphs.[ix] And part of those four mentions relate to DeBlasio’s own lawsuits against the petroleum companies.
And then there’s Boston, Massachusetts. Mayor Marty Walsh has called combating climate change a “top priority,” saying that it is a “non-negotiable,” regardless of the price tag.[x] But Walsh and other city leaders have permitted new construction in areas that would be washed away if their claims of sea level rise hold up. The city does have a plan: Climate Ready Boston to fight the coming climate storm,[xi] and so far, has spent less than 5,000 dollars on it.[xii]
Down in Miami Beach, Florida, mayor Philip Levine ran for governor in the state of Florida pushing an agenda to combat sea level rise. But Levine’s concerns didn’t stop the city from permitting new projects in flood prone areas, including areas where Levine owns property.
Right next door, in Miami, former mayor Tomas Regalado oversaw a $400 million bond issuance that was marketed as a revenue source to fight climate change.[xiii] However, this “Miami Forever” bond only allocated less than half of the revenue for directly addressing climate change.[xiv] What did the rest of the money go towards? Cultural facilities, park renovations, and playgrounds among other items. This has led critics to claim that Miami is going through something called climate gentrification.[xv]
Millions of Americans are concerned about the impact that a changing climate may pose to our communities. But politicians who say one thing and do another hurt our ability to have an honest discussion about the legitimacy of the threat, and any possible solutions. And based on our investigation, far too many politicians who love to lead when it comes to climate change rhetoric have a hard time putting their cities money where their mouths are.
I’m Peter Schweizer, and this is The Drill Down.
For more episodes, find us on social media, or visit thedrilldowntv.com
- Mike Brest, “Ocasio-Cortez: Climate Change Is Millennials and Gen. Z’s ‘World War II,’” Daily Caller, January 21, 2019, https://dailycaller.com/2019/01/21/ocasio-cortez-millennials-wwii/.
- Benjamin Zycher, “Climate Lawsuits: What They Say, and What They Fail to Say,” AEI, March 6, 2018, https://www.aei.org/articles/climate-lawsuits-what-they-say-and-what-they-fail-to-say/.
- Spencer Walrath, “Did Calif. Municipalities Suing Energy Companies over Climate Commit Securities Fraud?” EID Climate, January 9, 2018, https://eidclimate.org/calif-communities-suing-energy-companies-climate-change-may-misled-investors/.
- Chris Mooney and Dino Grandoni, “New York City Sues Shell, ExxonMobil and Other Oil Companies over Climate Change,” Washington Post, January 10, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/01/10/new-york-city-sues-shell-exxonmobil-and-other-oil-majors-over-climate-change/.
- Brandon Carter, “De Blasio Signs Executive Order Committing NYC to Paris Climate Agreement,” Hill, June 3, 2017, https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/nyc-mayor-bill-de-blasio-executive-order-paris-climate-change-agreement.
- Mayor Bill de Blasio, Facebook post, June 3, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/NYCMayor/posts/climate-change-is-a-dagger-aimed-at-the-heart-of-new-york-city-thats-why-we-took/10155209266786166/.
- The City of New York, 2018 Bond Disclosure, pgs. 1, 71-72, http://nycbonds.org/NYC/pdf/2018/NYC_GO_2018_F.pdf.
- Jordan Graham, “Walsh: Despite Cost, City Must Stem Climate Change Tide,” Boston Herald, March 28, 2018, http://www.bostonherald.com/news/local_politics/2018/03/walsh_despite_cost_city_must_stem_climate_change_tide.
- “Preparing for Climate Change,” City of Boston, accessed October 23, 2019, https://www.boston.gov/departments/environment/climate-ready-boston.
- “Climate Ready Boston,” in Environment, Energy & Open Space, accessed October 23, 2019, 242, https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/imce-uploads/2019-04/v2_07-_20_r_environment-energy-and-open-space-cabinet.pdf.
- “Miami Residents Vote for $400 Million Miami Forever Bond,” Associated Press, November 7, 2017, https://www.apnews.com/a05e8bbf60b34eb88648bb74234e6d38.
- Homepage, Miami Forever, accessed October 23, 2019, https://www.miamiforever.org/.
- Robynne Boyd, “Has Climate Gentrification Hit Miami? The City Plans to Find Out.,” NRDC, March 11, 2019, https://www.nrdc.org/stories/has-climate-gentrification-hit-miami-city-plans-find-out.