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San Francisco and Oakland sued 5 oil companies last year for damages from climate change. Last week, a federal judge ruled the suit could proceed to trial.

Climate Change

Judge Allows Climate Change Suit Against Fossil Fuel Companies To Proceed In Federal Court

San Francisco and Oakland sued 5 oil companies last year for damages from climate change. Last week, a federal judge ruled the suit could proceed to trial.

Last year, the cities of San Francisco and Oakland sued five fossil fuel companies —  Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP — in California state court. Their lawsuit claims that not only are the five responsible for the costs of protecting the citizens of those cities from the higher tides and flooding that rising sea levels will cause but that they knew of the dangers their business activities cause for years, if not decades, and willfully failed to disclose that information.

climate change lawsuitThe companies, following the advice of their highly paid lawyers, sought to remove the case from state court and transfer it to federal court. The theory behind the move was that federal courts have traditionally refused to get involved in such litigation, preferring to let Congress or the presumed experts at the EPA deal with such matters. (Of course, the assumption that the EPA would do its job has been obliterated by the insurgency created by Scott Pruitt, whose life’s mission is to destroy the EPA.) The industry lawyers assumed by getting the case into federal court, that would be tantamount to a victory for their clients.

But they were wrong. Last week, federal court judge William Alsup denied a motion filed by the cities asking the case be sent back to state court in California. But Alsup’s ruling included a barb, one that won’t please the defendants at all. (You can read the entire court decision at this link, if you are the kind of person who enjoys reading impenetrable legalese.)

In his ruling, Alsup allowed the case to go forward in federal court, despite a US Supreme Court ruling in 2011 that only Congress and regulators have the power to deal with pollution, not the courts. But that case involved a public utility company. Whether the fact that the plaintiffs here are municipalities may lead to a different outcome — or not. Judge Alsup says that is an important distinction, but the USSC may disagree. The Supreme Court as currently constituted is uncommonly friendly to corporate interests and hostile to the rights of others, be they private individuals or political entities.

“[The oil companies] got what they wanted; but they may be sorry they did,” said Ken Adams, lawyer for the Center for Climate Integrity, according to a report by Grist. “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?


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