Will Los Angeles be the next city to sue fossil fuel companies?

“By knowing that their business practice was contributing to climate change and doing nothing to stop their destructive ways, the oil and gas industry should be held responsible."

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Last week, New York City announced that it would be suing five of the largest fossil fuel companies in the world for their role in creating and perpetuating climate change. Now the second largest city in the U.S., Los Angeles, may be next.

Two days after New York City’s announcement, two Los Angeles city council members introduced a motion asking the City Attorney to look into legal options against fossil fuel companies.

The Councilmembers, Mike Bonin and Paul Koretz, also asked that an official legal statement in support of New York City’s case be prepared.

Bonin and Koretz stated, “By knowing that their business practice was contributing to climate change and doing nothing to stop their destructive ways, the oil and gas industry should be held responsible for the current and future damage climate change is causing our city,”

The proposal, signed by two other Council members, Jose Huizar and Marqueece Harris-Dawsonm claims that oil and gas companies have known about the effect of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from fossil fuel combustion, and that climate change was a contributing factor in the recent California fires. It also states that research warns that by 2050 average temperatures in LA are expected to increase by 5 degrees, creating more smog and significant health risks.

“We’re getting rising sea levels, wildfires, mudslides — that’s the implication of climate change right there,” Bonin said. “That does damage to our infrastructure. It just has some wide-ranging and comprehensive implications.”

Los Angeles, which has already passed a motion to transition to 100 percent renewable energy, plans to attack the issue of climate change through city government. This potential lawsuit would be a part of that, along with Los Angeles’ Mayor, Eric Garcetti’s plans to push forward with climate action rather than follow the Trump administration’s federal agenda.

Several other cities and counties in California have already filed their own lawsuits to hold fossil fuel companies accountable. These lawsuits are claiming damages associated with climate-fuels sea level rise, asking the fossil fuel companies to pay into a fund to help offset the cost of updating infrastructure. Santa Cruz takes it one step farther, tying the fossil fuel companies to changes in increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases, which causes more severe drought and wildfires.

These cities and counties are claiming “public nuisance”, a route which was successful last year when three paint companies were held responsible for creating a public nuisance when they manufactured and sold lead paint, despite knowing that it was dangerous.

It has been well documented that fossils fuel executives at Exxon were wanted of the dangers of fossil fuel use in the 1970s, but continued with their practices and even spent millions of dollars in misinformation campaigns to cast doubt on the science. With this information, California cities and counties could claim that they are guilty of creating a public nuisance.

As Bill McKibben stated after New York City’s announcement, this could be “a major tipping point” in holding companies accountable for their role in climate change. It could even lead to a similar situation that happened in the 1990s, when litigation against the tobacco industry lead to a $365.5 billion settlement to recover medical costs associated with the health impacts of tobacco use.

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