An Environmental Lawyer Willing to Work for Free…Actually For One Million Dollars

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by Craig Richardson
E&E Legal President

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) held a panel discussion last week that focused on a parade of local governments that have taken the energy industry to court to pay for damages stemming from climate change.

It was a supposed to be a serious and sober affair – until David Bookbinder decided to weigh in on the subject.

A fellow at the Niskanen Center, a think tank that supports policies to combat climate change, Bookbinder inveighed against the industry with an expletive-laced rant. “Exxon’s claims are pure bullsh*t,” he said, referring to the defense the company has mounted against the lawsuits.

If Bookbinder was a bit over the top, he had reason to be. After all, Bookbinder is representing a number of localities in Colorado — Boulder County, San Miguel County, and the City of Boulder — in their lawsuit against Suncor and ExxonMobil. “Exxon was bullsh*tting the courts in Texas,” he said, referring to one of the case the company is enmeshed.

And yet, it turns out that Bookbinder may not have been entirely candid himself. While he claims to have undertaken these case pro bono, evidence suggest that climate activism is a lucrative pursuit for Bookbinder and the think tank he is affiliated with.

Consider that The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, an ardent adversary of ExxonMobil that has spent millions of dollars waging a campaign against the energy giant, provided the Niskanen Center a $200,000 grant on February 22, 2018 to “advance solutions to climate change.”

The Niskanen Center has received money from other wealthy foundations that have targeted the energy industry for attack. For example, The Hewlett Foundation, also known for its environmental activism, provided the Niskanen Center $500,000 for its energy and climate work in 2017. In addition, The Energy Foundation, an organization funded by billionaire activist Tom Steyer, gave the Niskanen Center $150,000 in 2016.

In fact, the think tank has received more than $1 million since 2015 from foundations that are at war with the energy industry over climate change, oil-and-gas pipeline construction and other issues, according to a review of public records.

Moreover, Bookbinder owns a consulting company called Element VI Consulting, which received about $150,000 from the Niskanen Center in 2015, according to the think tank’s most recent filing with the Internal Revenue Service. This money was paid before Bookbinder was chief counsel at the think tank.

Interestingly enough, Bookbinder appears to have ties to another attorney who has benefited from Rockefeller support, Matthew Pawa, who has spent over a decade battling the industry in court. A quick IP search for the websites that Element VI owns indicated that Element VI shares an IP address with Pawa’s longtime law firm, Pawa Law Group, suggesting that they are closely related.

Pawa, who is now a partner at Hagens Berman, another law firm representing localities suing the energy industry, used to run the Global Warming Legal Action Project. Through this project, Pawa’s law firm had been paid more than $3 million from various Rockefeller family foundations, as well as Steyer-funded Energy Foundation, according to tax documents.

As for Bookbinder’s claims of working on these cases pro bono, one cannot help but wonder whether the claim is, well, bullsh*t – to use his words.

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