A George Soros-funded government attorney in Texas has been leading the charge against a chemical manufacturing company that stands accused of jeopardizing the public safety. The optics of the case have not been good for the company. But the money trail that flows between Soros and elected officials comes with its own baggage and points to an agenda that is not necessarily in the public interest.
Lawsuits can make lawyers rich; they can advance political careers and impact public policy. But how much they improve public safety and protect the environment is debatable.
Soros, a Hungarian-American billionaire and hedge fund manager, is the founder and chairman of Open Society Foundations, an international grant-making institution based in New York City known for financing progressive political causes.
In October 2016, Soros contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to support an advertising campaign on behalf of Kim Ogg, a Democrat, who was elected as the district attorney for Harris County a few weeks later. (Campaign finance reports can be found here.)
Soros has been contributing to the campaigns of district attorneys in the past few election cycles through his Safety and Justice PAC.
On the surface, the Soros donations appear to be geared toward achieving progressive policy changes in the realm of criminal justice. But where Ogg is concerned, her lawsuit against Arkema North America provides some insight into where climate change activism figures into the equation.
The case involves genuine human tragedy and environmental damage. But much of that tragedy and damage came as a result of a hurricane, leaving many to wonder about the implications for blaming industry for the crimes of Mother Nature.
Flood waters from Hurricane Harvey, which struck Southeast Texas in August 2017, knocked out a refrigeration system that stored organic peroxides at a company plant in Crosby, Texas, located about 25 miles from Houston, the county seat of Harris County. The chemicals, requiring refrigeration below a certain temperature to prevent decomposition and fire, triggered explosions after the hurricane knocked out the power and, hence, the refrigeration.
In the months that followed, Harris County government officials, first responders, and local residents all filed lawsuits against the company. Media coverage of the case against Arkema has been very damning. In August, a grand jury indicted the company, and two of its top officials, for alleged violations of the Texas Clean Air Act and Texas Water Code. The penalties attached to a conviction are severe. Richard Rowe, the chief executive, and Leslie Comardelle, the plant manager, each face a possible five years in jail. The company faces a $1 million fine, according to media reports. Ogg justified the indictments in a statement posted online.
“Companies don’t make decisions, people do,” Ogg said. “Responsibility for pursuing profit over the health of innocent people rests with the leadership of Arkema. Indictments against corporations are rare. Those who poison our environment will be prosecuted when the evidence justifies it.”
Those indictments will suddenly become less rare, and legal fees more commonplace, if corporate officers can be liable for natural disasters. Even as they tacitly acknowledge the limit to what the company could do to alleviate the hurricane’s impact, the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the public and private suits claim negligence from Arkema. (A copy of the Harris County case is available here and a copy of the first responders lawsuit is available here.)
The underlying argument in both cases admits that while the flooding was intense and the hurricane severe, the company still should have been better prepared based on prior experience.
Arkema North America is a subsidiary of a French company whose U.S. headquarters is in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. The company has released a powerful statement in its defense that has not been widely cited in the press, but deserves careful consideration. The statement reads in part as follows:
It would set an ominous precedent if a company could be held criminally liable for impact suffered as a result of the historic flooding of Hurricane Harvey that no one, including Harris County itself, was prepared for. In any event, there’s no foundation for a criminal case against Arkema. Certainly, it would be hard to assert that the company was criminally unprepared, after U.S. government investigators concluded that Arkema’s Crosby site had redundant preparedness measures, and the capability to hold steady in the face of a 500-year flood…. It was only when faced with the worst tropical rainfall event ever recorded in U.S. history — one that overwhelmed an entire region — that the Arkema facility was overcome. It’s hard to imagine any reasonable, objective person calling that criminal.
Soros has a long history of supporting environmental activism detached from sound science that essentially weaponizes claims of manmade disaster and climate change against industry. Chris Horner, an attorney with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has carefully documented how closely aligned government attorneys are with climate activists.
Ogg’s suit against Arkema backs into a larger agenda rooted in abusive litigation practices. Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, puts it very well.
“In the absence of any compelling evidence that the company was negligent, much less criminally negligent, Ogg’s case appears to be little more than ambulance-chasing by a public prosecutor seeking publicity to forward her political career,” Cohen says. “Our justice system should not have prosecutors who are tied to special interests that stand to benefit from the cases they bring. Given the level of financial contributions she has received from Soros-funded organizations, Ogg can in no way claim objectivity in a case whose overriding narrative is indistinguishable from the political agenda of her most generous donor.”
It is worth recalling that funding from Soros went to support several left-leaning advocacy groups that figured prominently in People’s Climate March held in Washington D.C. These same Soros-backed groups have also been operating in collusion with state attorneys general as part of a coordinated effort to prosecute energy companies and to silence climate skeptics who have made considerable headway in recent years.
There is a growing body of scientific evidence that identifies natural influences as opposed to human activity as the primary drivers of climate change. This is the kind of evidence that complicates the litigation Ogg and other government attorneys have been pushing.
“Natural disasters — hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes — will always occur, and their consequences can indeed be tragic,” Cohen said. “This year’s experiences with Hurricane Florence in North and South Carolina and Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle show that even the highest level of preparedness can be overwhelmed by cataclysmic events. If prosecutors in areas struck by such natural disasters followed the example set by Harris County’s Ogg, they will do nothing to remedy the suffering their communities have endured and will have made a travesty of the laws they are supposed to enforce.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who was re-elected last week by a comfortable margin, had warned his constituents that Soros was “pouring money” into the state in an effort to swing the elections. Campaign records show that Soros had contributed to the campaign of Beto O’Rourke, the far-left Democrat, who failed to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz. The fact that Texas Republicans prevailed against well-organized and well-funded opponents who attracted support from Soros, Hollywood, and other out-of-state entities suggests that the state is likely to remain red into the foreseeable future.
But it’s where Soros has shrewdly gone local in Harris County that he is most likely to achieve enduring and lasting policy changes that cut across state lines in the form of abusive lawsuits.