A little-known judicial advocacy organization funded by left-wing nonprofits is quietly training judges nationwide on how to handle cases related to climate change, according to a Fox News Digital review.
The Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Law Institute (ELI) created the Climate Judiciary Project (CJP) in 2018, establishing a first-of-its-kind resource to provide “reliable, up-to-date information” about climate change litigation, according to the group. The project’s reach has extended to various state and federal courts, including powerful appellate courts, and comes as various cities and states pursue high-profile litigation against the oil industry.
“As the body of climate litigation grows, judges must consider complex scientific and legal questions, many of which are developing rapidly,” CJP states on its website. “To address these issues, the Climate Judiciary Project of the Environmental Law Institute is collaborating with leading national judicial education institutions to meet judges’ need for basic familiarity with climate science methods and concepts.”
“We are developing and disseminating a climate science and law curriculum and are conducting seminars and educational programs, in collaboration with leading climate scientists and legal experts,” it adds. “The goal of our project is to provide neutral, objective information to the judiciary about the science of climate change as it is understood by the expert scientific community and relevant to current and future litigation.”
Since it was founded more than five years ago, the project has crafted 13 curriculum modules and hosted 42 events while more than 1,700 judges have participated in its activities. And multiple judges serve as advisers at CJP, potentially having an impact on its curriculum and modules.
For example, Ronald Robie, an associate justice for the Third District of the California Courts of Appeal, Judge Michael Simon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, and David Tatel, the recently retired former senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, have all acted as advisers for the project.
And a review of an Environmental Law Institute policy brief summarizing past events indicates CJP has reached judges from across the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th federal circuits, some of which are based in New York City, Boston and Puerto Rico. The group further boasts that it hosted a plenary session with approximately 100 judges in attendance at the annual mid-winter meeting of the Ninth Federal Circuit in 2019.
“Spurred by government actions and court decisions — and accompanied by a drumbeat of growing impacts — a rule of law of climate change is emerging,” the brief states. “ELI’s Climate Judiciary Project is preparing the bench to understand the science and ensure justice in the new legal environment.”
In 2022, the Environmental Law Institute said it led 80 events, ranging from conferences, policy forums and boot camps on topics that included climate change, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, decarbonization, the Endangered Species Act, energy law, environmental criminal enforcement, environmental justice and ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance).
CJP’s various curricula indicate that the group’s courses and seminars blame climate change on fossil fuel production and use. According to the documents, if carbon emissions continue at their current rate, the global average temperature will rise to as much as 4.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100, far surpassing the 1.5 degrees Celsius target set by the United Nations.
“The only factor that can clearly explain the rising temperatures of the two centuries is the increasing level of atmospheric greenhouse gases, modulated by land cover change and increases in atmospheric aerosols (pollutants) from human activities,” one of the modules states.
“Climate change poses economic and financial risks, which emerge from impacts on infrastructure and the built environment and consequences for markets and other instruments that manage and are affected by such risks,” another adds. “Economic and financial impacts and damages from climate change are already occurring, and the potential costs and losses in the future are substantial, increasing non-linearly with the amount of global warming that occurs.”
Another module is dedicated to discussing “climate justice,” which states that low-income communities have historically been exposed to more environmental harms like “elevated exposure to heat, flooding, vehicular traffic, hazardous materials and pollutants, decaying civic infrastructure, poverty, and crime.”
Overall, according to its most recent tax filings, the Environmental Law Institute reported a total of $8.6 million in revenue — the vast majority of which came from outside funding sources and program revenue — and $14.6 million in total assets last year.
In recent years, the group has raised millions of dollars from left-wing nonprofits like the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Oak Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.
The Environmental Law Institute, meanwhile, boasts numerous connections to Sher Edling, an eco law firm representing a number of jurisdictions, including Minnesota, New Jersey, New York City and San Francisco, in climate nuisance cases against oil corporations in which plaintiffs argue that the fossil fuel industry has spearheaded a decades-long campaign of deception about global warming risks.
Sher Edling — founded in 2017 specifically to represent “states, cities, public agencies, and businesses in high-impact, high-value environmental cases,” according to its website — has also received funding from left-wing groups like the MacArthur Foundation and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which have both funded ELI.
“A grant to the Environmental Law Institute will support the Climate Judiciary Project, which was launched in 2019,” the MacArthur Foundation explains as the rationale for a $500,000 contribution to the ELI in 2020.
“The goal of the project is to increase judges’ understanding of the objective facts of climate science as it is understood by the expert scientific community, and how the lack of information would result in serious consequences for human and natural systems,” it continues. “This will lead to better-informed decisions and ultimately build a body of law supporting climate action.”
In addition to sharing some funding streams, the Environmental Law Institute and Sher Edling have also hired some of the same personnel.
For example, Ann Carlson, who joined the Biden administration in 2021, served on ELI’s board of directors for years while also “providing pro bono consulting” for Sher Edling on litigation against oil companies, financial disclosures showed. Sher Edling counsel Michael Burger has also participated in multiple ELI events and former Sher Edling lawyer Meredith Wilensky was previously an ELI Public Interest Law Fellow.
The Environmental Law Institute didn’t respond to a request for comment.