Read

Search form

Coastal Communities Sue 37 Oil, Gas and Coal Companies Over Climate Change

Coastal Communities Sue 37 Oil, Gas and Coal Companies Over Climate Change
Mon, 7/24/2017 - by Georgina Gustin
This article originally appeared on InsideClimate News

Two California counties and a city are suing 37 fossil fuel companies, accusing them of knowingly emitting dangerous greenhouse gases that have contributed to global warming that threatens their communities with sea level rise.

It won't be an easy case to make, legal experts say, but it's drawing the interest of private attorneys who see enough potential to take it on.

Marin and San Mateo counties, near San Francisco, and the city of Imperial Beach, south of San Diego, filed the new lawsuits in California Superior Court last Monday against Exxon, Shell and 35 other oil, gas and coal companies.

Their lawsuits accuse the companies of having known, for nearly five decades, "that greenhouse gas pollution from their fossil fuel products had a significant impact on the Earth's climate and sea levels." They say the companies' "awareness of the negative implications of their behavior corresponds" with rising greenhouse gas emissions. Together, the lawsuits say, the companies were responsible for roughly 20 percent of total emissions from 1965 to 2015.

The lawsuits contend that the companies "concealed the dangers, sought to undermine public support for greenhouse gas regulation, and engaged in massive campaigns to promote the ever-increasing use of their products at ever greater volumes."

The municipalities argue that the companies' actions amounted to negligence and a public nuisance—and they also contend that the companies failed to warn the public about dangers of their products, among other allegations.

The main trade group representing the oil and gas industries, the American Petroleum Institute, and representatives for Exxon and Shell did not respond on Tuesday to messages seeking comment on the lawsuits.

Claiming "Failure to Warn" and "Design Defect"

The lawsuits are not the first to pursue companies for their greenhouse gas emissions, but they present new twists.

"The public nuisance claims have been made before, though they never reached a resolution," said Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

"What's different here is the 'failure to warn' and 'design defect' claims—they have not been made in regard to climate change yet—and these are claims that rely on a long history of the industry's knowledge and allegedly deceptive activities," he said.

While those types of claims are similar to ones made against the tobacco industry, they could be harder to prove.

"There are a number of significant legal hurdles," Burger said. "They have to show causation."

"It's easy enough to say these companies pulled fossil fuel out of the ground," Burger said. "Proving that these particular emissions that came from these fossil fuel companies led to this particular level of sea level rise and contribute X amount to harms that have happened or will happen—that's a long chain of causation."

"At the end of the day, it's a difficult, but not impossible legal case," Burger added.

Communities Seeing the Impact of Climate Change

The two counties and city say they're already seeing the financial impacts of sea level rise, and they expect to continue to see damage to public spaces and infrastructure—including wastewater treatment facilities, roads and beaches—and be forced to spend millions to find ways to adapt to it.

"Sea level rise is harming Imperial Beach and threatening our future," the city's mayor, Serge Dedina, said in a statement. "As a low-income coastal community, we have no capacity to pay for the adaptation measures needed to protect ourselves from these impacts. It is unfair to force citizens, business owners and taxpayers to fend for ourselves when the source of the problem is so clear."

The municipalities are not seeking specific damages and instead are leaving that decision to the courts.

Latest Legal Challenge for Fossil Fuel Industry

The lawsuits add to the legal challenges against some of the fossil fuel majors.

Notably, the attorneys general of Massachusetts and New York have been investigating Exxon over what it told investors about the impacts of fossil fuels on the climate. Those investigations followed two separate investigative series in 2015, first by InsideClimate News and then the Columbia University School of Journalism and Los Angeles Times, into the cutting-edge research on climate change conducted by Exxon as far back as the 1970s and later industry efforts to cast doubt on the science and to delay efforts to cut emissions.

Historically, most of the challenges have been helmed by government attorneys, either for states or municipalities. The lawsuits filed Monday were submitted by private attorneys representing the municipalities rather than government lawyers.

"These are tort lawyers working on this, and that's different from when you're looking at state AG's or municipalities using in-house staff," Burger said. "What that means is that at least some tort lawyers see this as a potential winner because they're taking their time and they see an opportunity to win a big case."

Originally published by InsideClimate News

Sign Up

Article Tabs

Twenty states, backed by Donald Trump’s Department of Justice, are trying in the courts to dismantle the law by attacking what they see as its Achilles heel: the individual mandate.

occupy, creative activism, activism, act out e165

A backlog that's symptomatic of a patriarchal system that not only devalues women but devalues survivors of sexual assault.

E.U. trade, U.S. trade war, aluminium tariffs, steel tariffs

“These tariffs aren’t even legal under U.S. law, let alone World Trade Organization laws. It seems rather odd to be citing national security and targeting countries including your closest allies.”

public banking, public banks, Bank of North Dakota, public financing, financing infrastructure, Wall Street influence, private-public investments

Private interests’ influence over banking consumes, rather than sustains, the public good.

Dodd-Frank act, Volcker Rule, bank deregulation, Wall Street lobby, proprietary trading, SEC

By revising the Volcker Rule, a centerpiece of the 2010 Dodd-Frank act, the feds are pushing financial regulation in a direction that should worry everyone.

The Associated Press reports that young migrant children forcibly separated from their parents are being sent to facilities that critics described as "prisons for babies." (Photo: @NIJC/Twitter)

Those who have visited the facilites describe "play rooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis."

Twenty states, backed by Donald Trump’s Department of Justice, are trying in the courts to dismantle the law by attacking what they see as its Achilles heel: the individual mandate.

wage theft, corporate crimes, CEO pay,

An eye-opening new report has documented billions of dollars of corporate theft from workers. The government is turning a blind eye.

occupy, creative activism, activism, act out e165

A backlog that's symptomatic of a patriarchal system that not only devalues women but devalues survivors of sexual assault.

E.U. trade, U.S. trade war, aluminium tariffs, steel tariffs

“These tariffs aren’t even legal under U.S. law, let alone World Trade Organization laws. It seems rather odd to be citing national security and targeting countries including your closest allies.”

public banking, public banks, Bank of North Dakota, public financing, financing infrastructure, Wall Street influence, private-public investments

Private interests’ influence over banking consumes, rather than sustains, the public good.

Posted 3 days 6 hours ago
U.S. Border Patrol agents take into custody a father and son from Honduras near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018, near Mission, Texas. The asylum seekers were then sent to a processing center for possible separation. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

A new report confirms that Trump and his advisers had been considering the brutal policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the border for as long as they’ve been in power.

Posted 3 days 7 hours ago
E.U. trade, U.S. trade war, aluminium tariffs, steel tariffs

“These tariffs aren’t even legal under U.S. law, let alone World Trade Organization laws. It seems rather odd to be citing national security and targeting countries including your closest allies.”

Posted 2 days 2 hours ago
Democratic primaries, rigged primaries, Bernie Sanders, establishment Democrats, corporate Democrats, superdelegates, Democratic National Committee

If Democrats want any hope of voting Trump out, they must fix the broken primary system before the next election.

Posted 6 days 7 hours ago
family separations, ICE, immigrant deportations,

The size and brutality of this particular raid in Ohio, along with the use of military tactics, have shocked even the most seasoned immigrants’ rights activists.

Posted 2 days 7 hours ago
U.S. Border Patrol agents take into custody a father and son from Honduras near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018, near Mission, Texas. The asylum seekers were then sent to a processing center for possible separation. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

A new report confirms that Trump and his advisers had been considering the brutal policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the border for as long as they’ve been in power.

Democratic primaries, rigged primaries, Bernie Sanders, establishment Democrats, corporate Democrats, superdelegates, Democratic National Committee

If Democrats want any hope of voting Trump out, they must fix the broken primary system before the next election.

public banking, public banks, Bank of North Dakota, public financing, financing infrastructure, Wall Street influence, private-public investments

Private interests’ influence over banking consumes, rather than sustains, the public good.

family separations, ICE, immigrant deportations,

The size and brutality of this particular raid in Ohio, along with the use of military tactics, have shocked even the most seasoned immigrants’ rights activists.

occupy, creative activism, activism, act out e165

A backlog that's symptomatic of a patriarchal system that not only devalues women but devalues survivors of sexual assault.