California Sues Big Oil Companies, Seeking Damages Over Climate Change

The state of California filed a lawsuit Saturday against major oil companies, claiming that their production of fossil fuels has contributed to climate change and natural disasters.

The suit, which was filed in the Superior Court of California in the County of San Francisco, alleges that deception by the defendants caused a delayed societal response to global warming, and that their misconduct has greatly affected people, property and natural resources, according to court filings. The suit targets oil companies Exxon, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP and the trade group American Petroleum Institute, which it claims promoted disinformation about climate change.

“For more than 50 years, Big Oil has been lying to us – covering up the fact that they’ve long known how dangerous the fossil fuels they produce are for our planet,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a press release. “It has been decades of damage and deception. Wildfires wiping out entire communities, toxic smoke clogging our air, deadly heat waves, record-breaking droughts parching our wells. California taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill. California is taking action to hold big polluters accountable.”

The timing of the suit was partially motivated by a decision from the Supreme Court in April that enables existing suits from local governments to enter state court rather than federal court, increasing the likelihood of a friendly ruling on a climate-related case, according to Politico.

The lawsuit asks the defendants to pay for a portion of recovery efforts for weather events and wildfires that the state argues were induced by climate change, measures to protect people from rising temperatures, water supply issues and fortifications against sea level rise and flooding, according to the press release.

“California’s lawsuit does nothing to advance meaningful solutions to climate change and is a costly distraction from the important work that needs to be done,” the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project said in a statement about the lawsuit. “This litigation has no legal merit, which is why it has already been rejected by the federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court cautioned more than a decade ago that courts are simply not the appropriate places to decide climate policy.”

In 2017 and 2018, eight local governments in California filed similar climate lawsuits, which have since advanced to state courts, according to Politico. California’s suit is the largest of its kind to date.

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