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As Two Cities File Lawsuits, U.S. Supreme Court Will Have To Rule About Claims (And Counter-Claims) By Climate Scientists

The Wall Street Journal

Two Northern California cities filed separate lawsuits against five major oil companies Wednesday, asking state courts to force the companies to fund infrastructure the cities say is needed because of climate change.

U.S. Supreme Court building

The suits, filed by San Francisco and Oakland in state Superior Court, are among the first in which plaintiffs are seeking to force companies to pay for infrastructure to protect coastal cities from potential damages caused by rising sea levels. The cities are asking for the oil companies to pay for sea walls and other infrastructure projects, the cost of which aren’t yet known, according to the cities, but are expected to be in the billions of dollars, they said.

Scientists have linked rising sea levels to the burning of fossil fuels and warming global temperatures.

The cases open a new front in a yearslong effort by environmental groups, Democratic state attorneys general and municipalities to hold big oil companies accountable for the societal costs of climate change.

Plaintiffs in a number of lawsuits or investigations have argued companies knew or should have known about the potential impacts of burning fossil fuels, but instead made efforts to sow doubt about the science behind global warming.

The companies dispute those allegations.

City attorneys reiterated those complaints Wednesday, with San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera saying large oil companies “copied a page from the Big Tobacco playbook.”

“These fossil fuel companies profited handsomely for decades while knowing they were putting the fate of our cities at risk,” Mr. Herrera said.

Matthew Pawa, an attorney who participated in a 2012 California conference that dealt with the potential for seeking climate change damages from oil companies and compared the effort to tobacco-company litigation, is part of the cities’ legal teams, according to court documents.

The San Francisco and Oakland suits allege the companies are a “public nuisance” and ask courts to force the firms— BP PLC, Chevron Corp. , ConocoPhillips , Exxon MobilCorp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC—to create a fund for each city to pay for infrastructure projects likely to cost billions of dollars.

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