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Supreme Court ruling could doom climate lawsuits

E&E News

Attorneys for Big Oil and the city of Baltimore will square off next week in a Supreme Court battle that could change the trajectory of more than a dozen closely watched U.S. climate change lawsuits.

The nation’s highest bench will hear arguments Tuesday in BP PLC v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, a case that hinges on a hyper-technical question that has been raised in a number of challenges aiming to force oil companies to pay up for local climate impacts.

Experts say the outcome of the Supreme Court case could result in substantial delays to — or the derailment of — climate liability lawsuits filed by states, counties and cities across the country.

“They’re trying to get the court to get rid of all climate cases in this guise of deciding this very narrow technical issue concerning the reviewability of remand orders by appellate courts,” said Robert Percival, director of the University of Maryland’s Environmental Law Program.

At issue in the Supreme Court fight is whether federal appeals court judges can review the entire scope of U.S. district court orders that toss climate cases back to the state benches where they were originally filed. Usually, once a case is thrown back to state court, the decision can’t be appealed unless the dispute deals with a limited set of issues such as civil rights claims or federal officer involvement.

The question in front of the Supreme Court is narrow, but oil and gas companies have also asked the justices to save time and rule that lawsuits like Baltimore’s seeking compensation for climate change should automatically land in federal court (Climatewire, Nov. 17, 2020).

Embattled oil supermajors like BP, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Chevron Corp. have been fighting for years to keep climate liability cases in federal venues, where the challenges may face a greater chance of failure.

Since 2017, lawsuits filed by local and state officials in California, Rhode Island and other places have been locked in jurisdictional battles over whether the cases should remain in state court.

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