Chevron’s lawyer is a walking contradiction
Like the industry he represents, Ted Boutrous is not what he appears.
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CNN reporter Jim Acosta leaves the courthouse after his White House press pass is restored. Ted Boutrous, who represented CNN in the case, is behind him. Credit: Victoria Pickering
Ted Boutrous isn’t like regular corporate attorneys — he’s a *cool* corporate attorney, who rails against Donald Trump on Twitter and says he “care[s] very much about climate change.”
He also represents oil giant Chevron in lawsuits across the United States that seek to hold the corporation accountable for lying about the dangerous climate damages they knew their products would cause.
Boutrous doesn’t have to represent one of the world’s most polluting companies, known for committing human rights atrocities, deceiving the public about their climate destruction for decades, and even relentlessly attacking an attorney who fought the company’s abuses. It’s a confounding choice for a lawyer who has successfully litigated for Davids over Goliaths over the course of his career: his work restoring the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in California in 2013, for example, or his current representation of Ashley Judd in her sexual harrassment suit against Harvey Weinstein.
But Chevron, he says, is a “really terrific client.”
As evidence of Big Oil’s climate destruction and deception balloons, lawyers like Ted Boutrous play a starring role in the industry’s battle to avoid accountability at all costs.
Boutrous, who portrays himself on social media as a good liberal and caring member of society, might seem like a walking oxymoron — but in many ways, he is the perfect person to defend an industry that lies about being “part of the solution” while actively adding fuel to the fire.
Just a few of the fictions he’s told on behalf of Big Oil:
1) Boutrous was one of several lawyers representing Big Oil who donated significantly to the Democratic Party, reporting from E&E News revealed. In an interview with E&E, the lawyer explained himself by misrepresenting the substance and purpose of these lawsuits: “My supporting Democratic candidates and Democratic officeholders is completely consistent with my view that climate change is an extraordinarily important global policy issue… it's not something that can be dealt with through tort litigation,” he said.
These cases have nothing to do with enacting policy to solve climate change, and are instead about holding companies accountable for deceiving the public about their dangerous products and making sure they pay their fair share of the resulting damages. But twisting the basic facts of climate liability litigation is one of the most tried and true tactics of the industry and its backers battling accountability.
2) In a recent interview with Business Insider, Boutrous said “We need sensible approaches that both tackle the problem and recognize the reality that we all need energy, we all need light, and we all need to live in the modern world.”
By acting as if modern life is dependent upon the continued use of fossil fuels, and that they are part of a “sensible” approach to climate change, Boutrous takes a page straight out of Big Oil’s greenwashing playbook. As the recent IPCC findings make clear, failing to transition immediately off of fossil fuels will lead to exponentially increasing catastrophes — but neither the industry nor its lawyers are willing to tarnish their profits, or reputations, by acknowledging that fact.
3) Boutrous isn’t above flat-out lies, either. During an episode of Bloomberg Law’s podcast Parts Per Billion, he attacked San Francisco’s climate damages suit against Chevron and other oil giants by engaging in the same type of deliberate disinformation that his client keeps getting sued over. Boutrous falsely claimed that prior to the city’s lawsuit, officials declared in a bond offering document “that there were no risks that could be assessed in terms of costs based on climate change.” In fact, the bond offering cites a state-funded report from the California Climate Change Center that clearly details San Francisco's risk of sea level rise and flooding, and includes a specific estimate of the cost to replace at-risk property from a 100-year flood event ($100 billion).
The reality is that if Boutrous succeeds, communities across the country will be left holding the bill for the climate damages his client caused. Boutrous will have also played a central role in setting a dangerous precedent for corporate accountability moving forward.
Unfortunately, Boutrous is only one of many top lawyers aiding Big Oil in its climate destruction. Today, law student group Law Students for Climate Accountability released their 2021 “Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard” evaluating the Vault 100 law firms for their litigation, lobbying and transactional work for fossil fuel companies. Gibson Dunn, where Ted Boutrous is a partner, was one of 36 firms to receive an “F” for their role in worsening climate change, as well as human rights abuses and environmental injustice between 2016 and 2020. Out of all the firms, Gibson Dunn was ranked second-highest for litigating on behalf of the industry.
In April, the coalition of law students launched its #DonewithDunn campaign with a letter to Gibson Dunn condemning its attacks on environmental justice in cases like the Dakota Access pipeline and Chevron’s dumping of toxic waste into the Ecuadorian Amazon. The letter ultimately calls on the firm to “commit to a publicly available ethical standard that articulates what fossil fuel work is incompatible with their commitments to frontline communities and to the climate.”
“When Gibson Dunn and other top law firms choose to line up behind fossil fuel companies, it causes concrete harm to the climate and marginalized communities,” said Tim Hirschel-Burns, a student at Yale Law School and a co-founder of Law Students for Climate Accountability. “Even though 88 law student organizations have signed on to our #DoneWithDunn campaign, Gibson Dunn is yet to articulate any standard guiding its fossil fuel work other than profit."
In the meantime, this next generation of law students will be considering where they decide to put their resources and talent — and hope their choices will help steer the industry in a new direction.
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