In January, New York City sued 5 major oil companies, claiming their business activities and aggressive climate denial tactics would cost the city billions of dollars in infrastructure expenses to protect its citizens from the effects of climate change. On July 20, federal judge John Keenan granted the motions to dismiss filed by the five defendants. The judge’s decision did not address the city’s primary claims. His ruling only said if there is a problem, it is not the proper role of the courts to fix it.
“Climate change is a fact of life, as is not contested by Defendants,” he wrote. “But the serious problems caused thereby are not for the judiciary to ameliorate. Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government.”
Seth Stein, a spokesman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, said the city planned to appeal the decision. “The mayor believes big polluters must be held accountable for their contributions to climate change and the damage it will cause New York City,” he said, according to Reuters. The de Blasio administration has said it will eliminate investments in fossil fuels by its public pension funds over the next 5 years.
The legal claims filed by the city are familiar to most CleanTechnica readers. They alleged the companies knew full well their products led to warming of the atmosphere, but at the same time, engaged in a calculated campaign to discredit climate scientists in order to avoid paying for the damage they caused. The city said it must spend billions of dollars to safeguard against flooding and other hazards of global warming, and sought monetary damages.
Even assuming all that is true, the companies argued, the Federal Clean Air Act makes the EPA the only entity that can bring suits for damages caused by pollution.
The judge agreed. He also said that the claims asserted by New York City would, “implicate countless foreign governments and their laws and policies.” There is no way a court could deal effectively with such complex litigation, he added.
Attorneys for the oil companies were jubilant, of course, and praised Judge Keenan to the heavens. “Judge Keenan got it exactly right,” Theodore Boutrous, a lawyer for Chevron, said in a statement.
“Judge Keenan’s decision reaffirms our view that climate change is a complex societal challenge that requires sound governmental policy and is not an issue for the courts,” Shell said in a statement. ConocoPhillips spokesman Daren Beaudo said climate change was, “a global issue that requires global policies and solutions.”
Beaudo is correct. The problem is that there is no world government that has the power to create and enforce such policies and solutions. And the lunatics currently in charge of the U.S. government are hell bent on pumping even more carbon emissions into the atmosphere so the oil industry will continue to donate generously to their re-election campaigns.
The NYC lawsuit was really a plea for help, a Hail Mary tactic. Since neither the executive nor legislative branches are willing to act decisively, the courts are the last branch of government that could possibly address the issue of climate change rationally. Sadly, Judge Keenan is correct. The questions presented are not really justiciable. But if the courts won’t help protect America, who will?
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