Vanderwende: DOJ needs to focus on criminal prosecution, not climate change


Jesse Vanderwende is a Republican representing Bridgeville.

The state of Delaware continues to aggressively advance its radical energy agenda.

A case in point is a lawsuit that state Attorney General Kathy Jennings filed against more than 30 energy companies.

The action alleges that the companies — including Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil — engaged in a “campaign of deception” about the existence, cause and effects of global warming. The action maintains the state will suffer from sea level rise, increased extreme weather and ocean acidification, and seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

It should be clear, even to those of us who are not attorneys, that this lawsuit is meritless, hypocritical and adds to the growing list of why quality employers may view Delaware as a hostile business environment. Over the last decade, companies have had additional costs imposed on them by new laws and burdensome regulations, while continuing to pay more for electricity than two-thirds of the nation. The disparity of the latter will grow with the future implementation of the mandatory purchase of offshore wind power — the most expensive way to produce commercial electricity.

The Delaware Department of Justice’s misguided lawsuit is funded by taxpayer dollars. Thus far, three years have passed as DOJ and the defendants have contested which court should hear the case — an issue finally settled in May. More public money will be spent shortly when the dispute is tried in Delaware Superior Court.

The Justice Department is pursuing this with the full knowledge that similar lawsuits have failed elsewhere. New York City was unsuccessful with its climate lawsuit, which the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed in 2021. In that dismissal, a federal judge stated: “Artful pleading cannot transform the City’s complaint into anything other than a suit over global greenhouse gas emissions. … Such a sprawling case is simply beyond the limits of state law.”

Similar lawsuits by San Francisco and Oakland, California, were dismissed for comparable reasons in 2018. In those cases, a federal judge wrote: “The dangers raised in the complaints are very real. But those dangers are worldwide. Their causes are worldwide. The benefits of fossil fuels are worldwide. The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case.”

Anyone who has been a party to litigation knows that the court process is complex and time-consuming. This lawsuit will be no exception, involving extensive evidence gathering and protracted court proceedings, turning into a growing financial black hole into which taxpayer money will disappear.

On its face, the lawsuit is disingenuous. It proposes that no one knew the dangers of using fossil fuels and that oil companies somehow tricked everyone into thinking there was no environmental impact. We all have used fossil fuels, fully realizing those actions have consequences. To assert otherwise is ludicrous.

All forms of energy have some negative environmental impact. Using fossil fuels releases carbon and other potentially harmful emissions into the atmosphere. Hydroelectricity blocks fish migrations and creates water temperature imbalances and sediment issues in the watershed. Offshore wind turbines kill countless waterfowl and produce underwater noise and vibrations that impact marine life in unknown ways. Solar panels often need vast amounts of unobstructed land, displacing forest and farmland. Nuclear power has no emissions but produces radioactive waste that must be safely stored for thousands of years.

While not being an apologist for the detrimental aspects of fossil fuels, it is undeniable that they have contributed to enhancing and improving the quality of our lives for many decades. As we transition to new, more sustainable methods of producing and using power in every aspect of our society, the prudent use of gasoline, diesel and natural gas should remain a part of a diverse and balanced future energy mix.

However, the Carney administration and the Attorney General’s Office share a vision of forcing their energy plan on our state’s citizens and businesses. The pending ban on the sale and registration of internal combustion vehicles in Delaware, despite polls showing the majority of Delawareans oppose the move, is just one aspect of this conceit.

Instead of wasting taxpayer money on frivolous lawsuits based on false claims, the Attorney General’s Office should focus on pervasive problems within its purview. Retailers are being increasingly victimized by shoplifting and smash-and-grab robberies. Violent crimes are far more common than most Delawareans realize, permeating every corner of the state. And gun crimes too often go unprosecuted, disposed of as part of the plea-bargaining process.

The Department of Justice would be of greater service to our citizens if it spent our tax dollars holding criminals accountable rather than engaging in environmental virtue signaling with ineffective lawsuits that have already failed in other jurisdictions.

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at

Members and subscribers make this story possible.
You can help support non-partisan, community journalism.