USA: Cities of San Francisco & Oakland sue 5 oil companies over their alleged contribution to current & future impacts of sea level rise in California linked to climate change

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Article
18 March 2019

USA: San Francisco & Oakland appeal court dismissal of their climate liability lawsuits against 5 oil companies

Author: Climate Liability News, USA

"Francisco, Oakland Appeal Dismissal of Climate Lawsuits", 13 Mar 2019

San Francisco and Oakland have filed an appeal of a federal judge’s decision to throw out their climate liability lawsuits against five major oil companies. The lawsuits, dismissed last year, demanded the companies pay for the costs of sea walls and other infrastructure necessary to protect the cities from ongoing and future consequences of climate change...

In the appeal, which was filed Wednesday in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, San Francisco and Oakland contend that U.S. District Judge William Alsup mischaracterized their public nuisance claims. Alsup claimed the cities were seeking to regulate greenhouse gas emissions...

In the suit, initially filed in California state court in 2017, the cities allege that “production and promotion of massive quantities of fossil fuels” by BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon and Shell has caused—and is continuing to worsen—climate change-driven sea level rise, which endangers the lives of their residents...

In his dismissal, Alsup said the problem of climate change is too vast in scope to hold just five companies liable and said solving the climate crisis is best left to the executive and legislative branches of government...

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Article
2 July 2018

USA: Court dismisses San Francisco & Oakland climate lawsuit against 5 fossil fuel cos.

Author: John Schwartz, The New York Times (USA)

"Judge Dismisses Suit Against Oil Companies Over Climate Change Costs", 25 June 2018

A federal judge on Monday threw out a closely watched lawsuit brought by two California cities against fossil fuel companies over the costs of dealing with climate change.  The decision is a stinging defeat for the plaintiffs, San Francisco and Oakland, and raises warning flags for other local governments around the United States that have filed similar suits, including New York City.  The judge, William Alsup of Federal District Court in San Francisco, acknowledged the science of global warming and the great risks to the planet, as did the oil and gas companies being sued.  But in his ruling, Judge Alsup said the courts were not the proper place to deal with such global issues, and he rejected the legal theory put forth by the cities...The cities wanted the defendants — including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell — to help pay for projects like protecting coastlines from flooding.  But Judge Alsup said the issues would more properly be handled by the other two branches of government...Judge Alsup said that climate change was an issue of global importance but that the companies were not solely at fault...The cities had relied on the area of public nuisance under state common law, which allows courts to hold parties responsible for actions that interfere with the use of property...

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Article
27 June 2018

Three Key Errors in First Decision Dismissing Climate Nuisance Lawsuits

Author: Marco Simons, EarthRights International

The San Francisco and Oakland climate cases were dismissed by federal judge William Alsup on Monday...Judge Alsup divided the cities’ suit against five oil majors into two halves – claims harms from for fossil fuel production within the United States, and claims for harms from fossil fuel production outside the United States.  In the first half, he ruled that the Clean Air Act displaces these claims – essentially, that because the CAA regulates emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, cities cannot sue for damages caused by climate change... In the second half, Judge Alsup ruled that while conduct outside the U.S. is not regulated by the CAA, the “presumption against extraterritoriality” limits federal claims for such activity...This decision comes at a stage of the case where no evidence has been submitted; only the allegations of the complaint are at issue.  Yet Judge Alsup determined that “judgments in favor of the plaintiffs . . . would make the continuation of defendants’ fossil fuel production ‘not feasible.'”  Therefore, he reasoned, only Congress can decide whether to take that step; courts should not...Ultimately, Judge Alsup’s opinion suggests a reluctance to apply the ordinary legal rules to climate change cases..It’s not the plaintiffs here that are trying to create new legal rules in order to recover from fossil fuel companies; it’s the companies that are trying to create novel defenses to avoid the consequences of long-held legal principles.

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Article
21 March 2018

People cause climate change, but don’t blame big oil, industry tells judge

Author: Kurtis Alexander, San Francisco Chronicle (USA)

In a court hearing... attorneys for petroleum giants told a San Francisco federal judge...that human activities are clearly responsible for global warming, but that the science isn’t sophisticated enough to point fingers at big oil.  Five oil companies...argued that because the heating of the planet is a “collective” problem, legal efforts...are misguided.  U.S. District Judge William Alsup ordered the unusual climate “tutorial” to better understand a pair of lawsuits that the cities have filed against the companies...Chevron atttorney Ted Boutrous didn’t dispute that humans are contributing to climate change.  [H]e said Chevron agreed with assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change...Boutrous pointed to uncertainty on the part of the panel and others about how bad sea level rise will be...[A]ttorneys for San Francisco and Oakland...called on three climate scientists to present the cities’ view.  Their outlook was largely consistent with what the oil companies had to say, except their projections were more certain and their accounting of blame ran deeper...Judge Alsup...asked the two sides to answer eight questions about climate change...Attorneys for the oil companies are hoping that Wednesday’s debate is...irrelevant...[T]he firms filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on grounds that the case is not an issue for a judge but for regulatory agencies... 

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Article
21 September 2017

California cities sue big oil firms over climate change

Author: Gary McWilliams, Reuters

California cities San Francisco and Oakland filed separate lawsuits against five oil companies on Wednesday seeking billions of dollars to protect against rising sea levels they blamed on climate change...

The lawsuits, filed in state courts in San Francisco and Alameda Counties, alleged Chevron Corp, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp, BP Plc, and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, created a public nuisance and asked for funds to finance infrastructure to deal with rising sea levels...

“Should this litigation proceed, it will only serve special interests at the expense of broader policy, regulatory, and economic priorities,” said Chevron spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie.

Shell said in statement the issue should be addressed by government policy and cultural change, not by courts.

Exxon called the lawsuits’ claims without merit, and said it would defend itself. ConocoPhillips declined to comment. BP did not respond to a request for comment...

 

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Article
21 September 2017

New Californian climate lawsuit against ‘Big Oil’ filed

Author: Sophie Marjanac, ClientEarth

Another lawsuit against ‘Big Oil’ for the effects of climate change has been filed in California. The cities of San Francisco and Oakland, on behalf of the people of California are suing BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell over the company’s contribution to current and projected impacts from sea level rise in California.

The case is similar to those filed in July by the counties of San Mateo, Marin and the City of Imperial Bay, also on the basis of the common law of public nuisance...

[Plaintiffs] claim that the ‘Big Oil’ defendants have contributed to the current concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, by directly causing emissions, but also by indirectly through their lobbying and marketing activities....

This case is part of an ongoing trend toward more climate change litigation, and a growing global recognition that the business and political activities of the world’s largest corporations are contributing to loss and damage arising from climate change.

Regardless of the outcome, this case highlights the mounting costs of climate change and raises legitimate questions about whether private interests that have profited from emissions should bear some of the cost. After all, the polluter pays principle is fundamental to both environmental and tort law.

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