Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has ruled multiple times over the past year to slash climate regulations and aid the fossil fuel industry and developers — and new reporting finds that he may have an indirect personal financial stake in those rulings.
As The Intercept reported on Monday, Samuel Alito’s wife Martha Ann Alito struck a deal with oil and gas company Citizen Energy III last year: She would lease the company a plot of land she inherited from her father, and in return, she would get a fraction of the sales of the oil and gas it would potentially extract from the land.
The 160-acre plot is located in Grady County, Oklahoma, one of the most active counties in the U.S. for oil and gas production. As part of the agreement, dated June 27, 2022, Martha Ann Alito gets paid 3/16ths of the sales of the fossil fuels from the land.
Later that same week, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that represented a major setback in the climate movement. Justice Alito joined the majority in the 6-3 decision in which the Court ruled that the EPA doesn’t have the authority to implement limits on greenhouse gas emissions on power plants — a decision that climate groups decried as devastating and dangerous.
On financial disclosures last year, the justice listed “mineral interests” valued between $100,001 and $250,000. As The Intercept notes, Samuel Alito has often recused himself from cases involving his investment portfolio, and Citizen Energy III isn’t currently involved in cases before the Supreme Court.
Though there may not be a direct conflict of interest, however, the fact that the justice has a personal financial interest in the oil and gas industry and its ability to make profits without threat of regulation raises concerns over how he may rule in fossil fuel-related cases.
“There need not be a specific case involving the drilling rights associated with a specific plot of land for Alito to understand what outcomes in environmental cases would buttress his family’s net wealth,” Revolving Door Project director and founder Jeff Hauser told The Intercept.
“Alito does not have to come across like a drunken Paul Thomas Anderson character gleefully confessing to drinking our collective milkshakes in order to be a real life, run-of-the-mill political villain,” Hauser continued.
Justice Alito is a longtime climate denier. In a speech at a conservative think tank’s event in 2017, he delivered a stunningly false speech in which he claimed that carbon dioxide isn’t a pollutant that’s harmful to life on earth — despite, of course, the gas’s major role in the climate crisis.
“Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Carbon dioxide is not harmful to ordinary things, to human beings, or to animals, or to plants,” the justice said. “All of us are exhaling carbon dioxide right now.”
Recently, Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion in Sackett v. EPA, another major case narrowing the agency’s ability to regulate water pollution, putting millions of acres of land at risk of being polluted or developed around.
The Supreme Court justice has been the subject of high scrutiny over the past week after ProPublica uncovered his close relationship with hedge fund founder and billionaire Paul Singer, whose firm once won a case it had before the Supreme Court, with a reward of $2.4 billion. Since then, multiple reports have uncovered potential conflicts of interest where critics say Alito failed recuse himself from cases in which he has personal involvements.