Activists Want Energy Companies To Pay Climate Damages. That Could Imperil US National Security, Former Joint Chiefs Say.

Oil and gas 'critical to national security, economic stability and military preparedness'

(Mario Tama/Getty Images)
April 8, 2024

Oil and gasoline products remain "critical to national security," two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a legal brief, weighing in on a closely watched court case in Hawaii that has activists calling on America's top energy companies to pay damages for contributions to climate change.

A decision against these companies could have massive repercussions on national security and foreign policy that have not been considered. "Oil and gas products are critical to national security, economic stability and military preparedness," retired Gen. Richard B. Myers and Adm. Michael G. Mullen wrote in an amicus brief filed last week to Hawaii's supreme court, which is handling the high-profile case.

The case has pitted the city of Honolulu against Sunoco, Exxon, Chevron, and other U.S. energy firms in what critics have described as a "hyper-ideological" bid by far-left activists to "strong-arm progressive lifestyle choices" on the American public and destroy the country's multibillion-dollar oil industry. The city wants these companies to pay billions to offset the alleged repercussions of climate change, potentially opening the floodgates for a flurry of similar cases from activists who are against the use of fossil fuels.

The two former military leaders weighed in on the case with a brief last week. They warned that those pursuing America's energy companies have not considered the national security role played by the firms, which have long-standing relations with the military and fuel operations across the globe. With the case potentially on track to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, Myers and Mullen are warning that a judgment against the energy companies could disrupt America's national security operations, with reverberations across the globe.

The Hawaii supreme court, which has permitted the case to proceed to trial, "did not address at all the 'foreign policy concerns'" related to a judgment that would effectively regulate emissions standards for every U.S. state, Myers and Mullen wrote. "State tort damages and abatement cases unduly risk constricting the availability of oil and gas to the detriment of national security interests, at a critical juncture in our Nation's history, when geopolitical forces and energy security are especially vulnerable to belligerent nations."

The oil and gas products produced by the firms targeted in the case remain "crucial to the success of our armed forces."

A judgment against energy producers would also "require them to internalize the costs of climate change and would presumably affect the price and production of fossil fuels abroad," jeopardizing global energy stability, the military leaders wrote, quoting a Second Circuit court ruling.

That judgment would cause a rippling effect across the globe that endangers America's foreign policy apparatus and destabilizes prices, as energy companies would have to factor in the cost of alleged climate change and increase their prices to account for it. The move could be catastrophic to American war efforts across the globe as Russia meddles with energy supplies in Europe and the Middle East sits on the precipice of war led by Iran.

"Because Respondent's Complaint seeks to penalize Petitioners for their lawful past, present and future sale of oil and gas, it risks making them prohibitively costly and scarce," the former chairmen write. "Their claims, therefore, necessarily cause national security concerns."

The Hawaii court also stands to overturn nearly 100 years of American energy policy.

"For more than 100 years, the Federal Government has actively encouraged—indeed it has compelled—domestic exploration, production and sale of oil and gas," the military leaders write. "The Federal Government has incentivized and contracted with [the companies named in the suit] to obtain oil and gas products to ensure a dependable, abundant supply of oil and gas for the nation's economic and military security."

If the U.S. military is forced to pivot away from oil and gas—a policy supported and pushed by the Biden administration—foreign adversaries such as China and Russia could corner the market for their own forces.

"The United States could go it alone and unilaterally strip itself of higher-performing fossil fuels, but that risks putting the nation at a significant competitive disadvantage, militarily and otherwise," the military leaders warn. "The ruinous damages these cases seek risk kneecapping this country while empowering others who seek to exploit just such vulnerabilities."

Meanwhile, 22 state attorneys general petitioned the Supreme Court last week to intervene in the case, saying Hawaii is overstepping its legal bounds by attempting to force a left-leaning energy policy on all 50 states. This policy, the state officials said, would have "grave" consequences for the country's energy market.