Late last year, a group of crab fishermen on the West Coast filed what is simply the latest in a series of lawsuits orchestrated by trial attorneys that target fossil fuel companies. The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association believes thirty energy manufacturers should be held responsible for delayed crabbing seasons and climate-related economic losses. Now, instead of Dungeness crabs, they — and the trial attorneys — hope to net a major payday in court.
Such lawsuits aren’t without precedent, of course. Over the past two years, local officials in states nationwide have filed so-called “public nuisance” lawsuits against fossil fuel companies, arguing they should be held financially responsible for climate-change impacts such as sea level rise. Why does this matter to Florida? In light of the state’s many coastal communities, some of the state’s officials might be tempted to file such lawsuits.
To date, these lawsuits have mostly fallen on deaf ears, with Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in June dismissing climate lawsuits filed by San Francisco and Oakland. Alsup reasoned correctly that the courtroom is a poor venue for solving a problem as vast as climate change. In July, U.S. District for the Southern District of New York Judge John Keenan employed the same rationale in dismissing a public nuisance climate lawsuit lawsuit filed by New York City targeting energy manufacturers.
The reality is that, having experienced a string of losses, trial attorneys are now shopping around for new plaintiffs to push their flawed legal theory. Even if that means finding potential plaintiffs on crab boats in San Francisco Bay. Or even if it means convincing officials in Florida to become the next to play the public nuisance sweepstakes.