In a significant legal move, California has filed a 135-page lawsuit against major oil companies, accusing them of playing a pivotal role in exacerbating climate change while concealing the connection between fossil fuel production and environmental damage.
The lawsuit, filed by California Attorney General Rob Bonta in San Francisco superior court, alleges that five major oil companies, along with the American Petroleum Institute (API), a trade organization representing them, conducted a decades-long disinformation campaign to hide the detrimental effects of fossil fuels on the climate.
The state argues that this deliberate cover-up, dating back to the 1970s, has impeded the public’s response to climate change, leading to more severe natural disasters and tens of billions of dollars in recovery costs. The oil companies named as defendants in the lawsuit are BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell.
California seeks to establish an abatement fund financed by the defendants to support future efforts to mitigate the damages caused by human-induced climate change. Additionally, the state requests that the oil companies and the API contribute to covering the costs of damages resulting from extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change.
This lawsuit is part of a broader climate litigation trend against oil companies in cities across the United States. However, California’s involvement in this legal battle carries significant weight due to the state’s susceptibility to extreme weather events, potentially resulting in more substantial damages for the oil companies if the case is lost.
Korey Silverman-Roati, a senior fellow at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, suggests that California’s participation in this lawsuit sends a powerful message to other jurisdictions that may consider similar legal action. It could inspire more states, cities, and counties to file climate-related lawsuits.
Notably, this lawsuit follows a Supreme Court ruling in April that denied five oil companies’ appeals to have similar cases heard in federal courts instead of state courts. Federal appeals could lead to quicker dismissals of cases, but with the Supreme Court’s decision, the California lawsuit is more likely to remain in state court.
California Governor Gavin Newsom expressed his support for the lawsuit, emphasizing its importance in addressing climate-related challenges.
The lawsuit outlines seven claims, including false advertising and the destruction of natural resources, and alleges that the oil companies and the API engaged in deceptive practices that hindered society’s response to global warming, resulting in significant economic and environmental costs.
The defendants have denied the allegations, characterizing the lawsuit as politically motivated. Chevron, for instance, stated that climate change requires a coordinated international policy response. At the same time, API’s Senior Vice President, Ryan Meyers, criticized the legal actions as politically driven and a waste of taxpayer resources.
This lawsuit in California follows a legal model similar to previous cases against industries that falsely marketed their products as safe, such as tobacco and opioid companies. It reflects a historical pattern of state courts adjudicating cases involving the misleading advertising of harmful products.
As this legal battle unfolds, it remains to be seen how the courts will rule on the allegations against major oil companies and the API and what implications this lawsuit may have for climate litigation nationwide.