A federal court’s decision to let a climate change lawsuit against energy manufacturers go to state court was touted by supporters as a “big win.” But this push to legally brand the marketing and sale of products necessary to modern life as a “public nuisance” is still ultimately doomed to fail. Why? This public nuisance playbook has been deployed in the past in Rhode Island, last time against former paint manufacturers, and the state Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the suit as violating “basic fairness.”
Rhode Island is not alone in its attempt to use the court system to blame energy manufacturers for the global issue of climate change. New York City, San Francisco and Oakland brought cases that were swiftly dismissed by federal trial courts last year. Other municipalities are adapting their strategies, hoping to fare better by trying to keep their claims in state courts.
What Rhode Island and these cities fail to acknowledge is that climate change is an inherently global issue. The judges who threw out the three climate liability cases last summer emphasized that climate change is a federal issue best resolved by Congress and the federal agencies, not courts at either the federal or state levels.
So how is Rhode Island attempting to make the case that climate change is an issue that can be litigated under state law? They argue that the energy manufacturers violated state law in promoting and marketing their products in Rhode Island, such as by not warning about the impacts of energy on climate change.
What Rhode Island fails to mention is that energy products are highly beneficial, and families and businesses need affordable energy.
When dismissing San Francisco and Oakland’s climate lawsuits, Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California emphasized the importance of these products. He told the courtroom that we “would have lost” World War II if it were not for these fuels. Even today, Rhode Islanders remain overwhelmingly reliant on the very fuels implicated in these lawsuits to power and heat their homes and businesses. So, it is odd that the state seeks to pin liability on those who have supplied what the state so urgently needs.
The full article can be read here.