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California Sues Oil Majors for Climate Deception and Damage
Lawsuit alleges that oil majors deceived the public, and this deception delayed the response to global climate change.
California is suing major oil companies in state court, alleging that they deceived the public over the climate risks associated with fossil fuels and caused billions of dollars in damage to communities and the environment. The civil case, filed against BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, ConocoPhillips and the American Petroleum Institute in California Superior Court in San Francisco, requests the creation of an abatement fund to finance climate mitigation efforts, an injunction to protect California’s natural resources, damages and penalties.
The lawsuit alleges that oil and gas company executives “have known for decades that reliance on fossil fuels would cause these catastrophic results, but they suppressed that information from the public and policymakers by actively pushing out disinformation on the topic.” This deception, the lawsuit alleges, “caused a delayed societal response to global warming. And their misconduct has resulted in tremendous costs to people, property, and natural resources, which continue to unfold each day.”
The complaint alleges that oil companies have known since at least the 1960s “that fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution that would warm the planet and change our climate.” The defendants, the lawsuit alleges, “mounted a disinformation campaign beginning at least as early as the 1970s to discredit the burgeoning scientific consensus on climate change; deny their own knowledge of climate change-related threats; create doubt in the minds of consumers, the media, teachers, policymakers, and the public about the reality and consequences of the impacts of burning fossil fuels; and delay the necessary transition to a lower-carbon future.”
The complaint alleges that this deception was “a substantial factor in bringing about these devastating climate change impacts in California, including, but not limited to, extreme heat, more frequent and intense droughts, increasingly severe wildfires, more frequent and intense storms and associated flooding, degradation of air and water quality, damage to agriculture, sea level rise, and habitat and species loss.”
Abatement and Damages
The state requests that the court order the defendants to “abate the massive public nuisance they created, contributed to, and/or assisted in the creation of” and “use its equitable powers to order Defendants to mitigate future harm to the environment and people of California attributable to Defendants’ unlawful actions, including, but not limited to, by granting preliminary and permanent equitable relief.” The state requested that the defendants “pay damages, statutory penalties, and restitution.”
Shell responded that litigation is not the appropriate vehicle for addressing climate change. “We do not believe the courtroom is the right venue to address climate change, but that smart policy from government and action from all sectors is the appropriate way to reach solutions and drive progress,” Shell said in a statement. “Addressing climate change requires a collaborative, society-wide approach,” Shell said. “We agree that action is needed now on climate change, and we fully support the need for society to transition to a lower-carbon future.”
Chevron responded that California’s courts would have “no constructive or constitutionally permissible role” in changing energy policy. “Climate change is a global problem that requires a coordinated international policy response, not piecemeal litigation for the benefit of lawyers and politicians.”