Lawsuits seeking damages for climate change face critical legal challenges

(Inside Climate News, 28 Jan 2020) Big oil and gas companies maneuver to steer the lawsuits into federal court, setting the stage for a possible showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court.

With a dozen state and local governments in court seeking damages related to climate change from fossil fuel companies, the U.S. Supreme Court may be the final stop for an  industry seeking protection from billion dollar verdicts.

At some point, one of the lawsuits is likely to drop into the lap of the high court and its newly cemented conservative block of justices.

Rhode Island, Baltimore, tiny Imperial Beach, California and the other localities for the most part want the cases tried in state court and out of federal jurisdiction, arguing that climate-induced extreme weather linked to oil and gas consumption has led to billions in property damage and huge remediation costs. 

ExxonMobil, Chevron, Phillips 66 and the other oil and gas giants, on the other hand, have gone to federal court over the issue of jurisdiction, arguing that the Clean Air Act and other federal laws preempt any claim under state law that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels cause climate change and related property damage.

On both sides, the stakes couldn't be higher. The localities and a 13th plaintiff—the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations—want to make the fossil fuel industry responsible for the cost of sea level rise, more intense wildfires, hurricanes and flooding that climate scientists attribute to a warming planet. 

The energy companies want the opposite—protection from those costs in the form of court rulings that could go all the way to the  Supreme Court, holding that global issues like climate change have no business being litigated in either state or federal court. If the high court concurs, it could set environmental, social, political and economic precedents for generations.

External link

Inside Climate News, 28 Jan 2020: Lawsuits seeking damages for climate change face critical legal challenges