The American Petroleum Institute (API) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), prominent trade groups in the oil and gas industry, along with the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), intervened in a federal case in which a group of teenagers sued the US government for violating their constitutional rights by causing climate change.
The three groups were arguing that a judgment requiring the government to tighten environmental regulations would harm their business interests. But discord arose among them after a judge ordered them to submit a joint filing stating their views on climate science.
A lawyer representing the three groups said in a court hearing on May 18 that they were unable to agree on the causes and effects of human activity and greenhouse gas emissions on the climate, transcripts of the proceedings show.
"It seems pretty clear that the trade group intervenors have recognized that there may be costs as well as benefits to intervention and that they might be better off leaving the defense of the case to the government," said Seth Jaffe, an environmental lawyer who is a partner at Foley Hoag in Boston. He is not involved in the case.
NAM was the first to file its request to withdraw, submitting it to the court on Monday. API asked to withdraw on Thursday. AFPM has not yet responded to the judge's request.
"What is noticeably absent from these withdrawal motions is the reason why the fossil fuel industry wants to leave the case," said Philip Gregory, a lawyer for the teen plaintiffs.
One issue for the industry groups is that laying out in court the scientific findings they accept on climate change could bind them to specific positions in other legal proceedings.
Exxon Mobil, for instance, a member of both API and NAM, is battling with attorneys general in Massachusetts and New York who are investigating the company for fraud based on apparent discrepancies between its public stance on global warming and internal documents on climate science.
API spokeswoman Sabrina Fang did not say why the industry group had asked to withdraw from the case.
"This case is about separation of powers among the three branches of government ... and we have full confidence that the courts will recognize that Congress and the Executive branch have the constitutional authority to write and execute the laws of the US," she said on Thursday.
The API formed a "Climate Change Task Force" last year to form a new message on climate change. Fang, when asked by Reuters on May 19 if the force had made any changes to API's public stance on climate change, said: "Nothing has changed."
A spokeswoman for NAM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The case is Juliana v. US, US District Court, District of Oregon (Eugene), No 15-cv-01517.
(Reporting By Emily Flitter; Editing by Tom Hogue)
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