Courts to decide fate of climate lawsuits brought against fossil fuel companies by California communities

“Fossil fuel companies knew 40 years ago that their products would lead to stronger storms, rising seas, larger wildfires, and other climate disasters."

Image Credit: Juicy Ecumenism

Oral arguments were held on Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to determine whether several lawsuits against major fossil fuel companies by many California communities will proceed in state or federal court. Eight California municipalities are accusing fossil fuel companies, including Exxon, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell, of knowing fossil fuel products caused an onslaught of threats to climate change and continued a disinformation campaign, which deceived the public.

The lawsuits are holding the fossil fuel companies accountable by arguing they should “pay their fair share of the enormous costs associated with planning for and adapting to climate-related risks, including threats to infrastructure, homes and businesses,” a press release said.

“Fossil fuel companies knew 40 years ago that their products would lead to stronger storms, rising seas, larger wildfires, and other climate disasters,” Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity, said.

According to a press release, a study conducted by the Center for Climate Integrity estimated that it would cost California seaside communities $22 billion to construct seawalls to combat the inevitable sea level rise come 2040.

While the fossil fuel industry defendants are pushing for the cases to move from state to federal court, the plaintiffs want the lawsuits to play out in state courts as originally files, a press release said. So far, four of the five federal district court judges have rules in favor of the municipal plaintiffs.

Wednesday’s hearing will consider if the lawsuits filed by the counties of Marin, San Mateo and Santa Cruz along with the cities of Imperial Beach, Richmond and Santa Cruz will go back to the state level. Another hearing will reconsider cases filed by the cities of Oakland and San Fransisco to remand at the state level after they were dismissed by a district court, a press release said.

“This is just like tobacco, lead paint, asbestos, opioids, what have you… where substantial evidence has developed that they knew about this a long time ago and instead of disclosing it or trying to do something about it, they went all out and tried to hide effects and sell it,” Tom Butt, mayor of Richmond, said.


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Ashley is an editor, social media content manager and writer at NationofChange. Before joining NoC, she was a features reporter at The Daily Breeze – a local newspaper in Southern California – writing a variety of stories on current topics including politics, the economy, human rights, the environment and the arts. Ashley is a transplant from the East Coast calling Los Angeles home.