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E&E News: Honolulu sues Big Oil for climate damages

Honolulu yesterday launched the latest legal battle against oil and gas companies over who should pay for climate change impacts like sea-level rise.

The city, which announced its intent to sue last year, submitted its challenge in the Oahu 1st Circuit Court after approval from the City Council (Climatewire, Nov. 6, 2019).

Josh Stanbro, Honolulu’s chief resilience officer, said during a press conference announcing the lawsuit that the city is following the footsteps of dozens of other municipalities challenging oil companies for “unjustly having to bear climate change and its impacts due to the information that’s been withheld over time by the fossil fuel corporations.”

He said the complaint echoes tobacco and opioid nuisance litigation, noting that fossil fuel companies knew for “decades and decades” that their products would cause “tremendous” local damage and that taxpayers would end up footing the bill. Stanbro noted that climate change may have cost Honolulu billions of dollars but that the exact figure would emerge during trial in the case.

“Instead of disclosing that information, [oil and gas companies] actually covered up the information,” he said. “They promoted science that wasn’t sound and in the process have sowed confusion with the public, with regulators and with local governments such as ourselves around what the true damages of these products were.”

Phil Goldberg, special counsel for the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project, said the lawsuit will cost taxpayers more by “scapegoating” the industry.

“People throughout Honolulu and the entire state of Hawaii need energy to power their homes and businesses, as well as the ability to bring tourists, goods and services to the islands,” he said. “The truth is that the best way to fight climate change is to engage with the manufacturing community on the major innovations.”

Maui County also announced plans last fall to fight the oil industry for compensation, but the county has yet to file its lawsuit.

The full article can be read here.

Legal Newsline: Baltimore gets favorable decision letting its climate change case transfer out of federal court

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has refused to reverse a remand order sending the City of Baltimore’s climate lawsuit to Maryland state court, virtually ensuring ExxonMobil, Chevron and other oil companies will face trial seeking billions of dollars in damages in an unfavorable venue they were hoping to avoid.

A three-judge panel on the appeals court rejected the oil companies’ argument the case should be removed to federal court under a statute that prohibits state courts from hearing lawsuits relating to acts by federal officers or under their orders. The defendants cited contracts with federal agencies and offshore drilling leases they said showed they were operating under the orders of federal officials.

The appeals court disagreed, saying the contracts cited weren’t enough to give the court jurisdiction. Federal appeals courts have extremely limited jurisdiction to overrule remand decisions by district courts, the Fourth Circuit panel said. The district court rejected the defendants’ other arguments against remand, including that the lawsuit involves purely federal questions of energy policy, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene while the appeal to the Fourth Circuit was pending. 

Last June, U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander ruled that the climate lawsuit should return to state court, rejecting the reasoning of federal courts in New York and San Francisco that previously ruled climate lawsuits don’t belong in court at all. Baltimore is represented by Sher Edling, a law firm working under a contingent-fee contract. 

Phil Goldberg, a lawyer for the Manufacturer’s Accountability Project, said climate change “is not a liability issue for state or federal court.”

“This effort to try to scapegoat others may score political points, but it is not productive,” he said in a prepared statement. “If Baltimore officials really want to do something about climate change, they should work with manufacturers on energy innovations for the City, not waste everyone’s time with this baseless litigation.”

Other courts to consider climate litigation have found it presents non-justiciable questions of policy. In a 2018 decision, U.S. District Judge William Alsup dismissed lawsuits by San Francisco and Oakland, saying the scope of the legal theory developed by plaintiff lawyers was “breathtaking,” and would “reach the sale of fossil fuels anywhere in the world, including all past and otherwise lawful sales.” A federal judge dismissed New York City’s climate lawsuit also in 2018 and in December a state court judge in New York rejected that state’s “ill-conceived” lawsuit against ExxonMobil over allegations it misled investors about climate change.

The full article can be read here.

Bloomberg Environment: Baltimore Climate Case Against Big Oil Kept in State Court

Baltimore’s legal effort to hold fossil fuel producers liable for climate change can proceed in the state court where it was filed, a panel of judges ruled Friday in a blow to companies facing climate litigation across the country.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit sided with Baltimore in the latest stage of its lawsuit against BP Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp., and other multinational energy companies—one of a dozen pending cases targeting the industry for its role in rising global temperatures.

Chevron Corp. has already vowed to challenge the decision.

Baltimore says oil and gas companies should cover the costs of raising local streets, enhancing stormwater infrastructure, and making other local investments to address damages linked to climate change. The city and the companies disagree on whether the case belongs in state or federal court.

The full article can be read here.

Manufacturers Urge Mayors to End Trend of Baseless Litigation

Washington, DC— Today, the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project (MAP) joined 29 state manufacturing groups in urging the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) to put an end to the baseless public nuisance lawsuits that are being filed against manufacturers by profit-seeking trial attorneys and public officials. The groups delivered the joint letter during the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) Fall Leadership Meeting in Columbia, South Carolina, in response to this disturbing trend. The letter was sent to the Honorable Stephen K. Benjamin, mayor of Columbia and president of the USCM, and Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of the USCM.

The organizations wrote, “It is our hope that by again bringing this issue to your attention, we can work together on productive ways to reverse this concerning trend and focus on meaningful solutions. We ask you today to consider how these lawsuits have affected or may impact your courtrooms and constituents, and we seek to partner with the U.S. Conference of Mayors and its members to work toward putting an end to these lawsuits and focus on real solutions.” Over the past year, 14 cities and counties and one state have filed this type of misguided litigation against manufacturers. To date, federal courts have dismissed the trial attorney-driven lawsuits in Oakland, San Francisco and New York City.

“Despite repeated defeats in the courtroom in recent months, mayors and public officials continue to join these public nuisance lawsuits that not only undermine the success of manufacturers across the nation but do little to improve the environment. Manufacturers have made tremendous gains in reducing emissions and are hopeful that mayors will join us in encouraging real efforts rather than filing baseless litigation that has never succeeded in court,” said Lindsey de la Torre, executive director of the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project.

Click here to read the full letter.