The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Judge Throws Out Historic Climate Liability Cases Brought by Oakland and San Francisco
In a blow to the climate liability movement, Federal Judge William Alsup on Monday threw out a trendsetting lawsuit brought by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco against the five biggest fossil-fuel producing companies, The New York Times reported.
The two Bay Area cities were the first major U.S. cities to sue big oil over the costs of adapting to climate change, but other cities and counties around the country, including New York, Boulder and Seattle's King County, have followed their lead for a current total of 11 such lawsuits on the books.
Alsup, of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, stemmed the tide of the movement with his decision, ruling that the courts were not the appropriate place to decide issues relating to climate change.
"The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case," Alsup wrote in his opinion, according to The New York Times.
Alsup acknowledged the scientific consensus surrounding human-caused climate change and agreed that it posed a significant risk to the planet, but did not think it was ultimately fair to hold the defendants―Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell―responsible for supplying a global demand for energy that had transformed the modern world.
"Would it really be fair to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded? Is it really fair, in light of those benefits, to say that the sale of fossil fuels was unreasonable?" he asked in the statement.
"This is obviously not the ruling we wanted, but this doesn't mean the case is over," San Francisco city attorney spokesperson John Coté told The New York Times. "We're reviewing the order and will decide on our next steps shortly."
Coté added that the case had already been a success in at least one respect: It had led Alsup to order a historic court tutorial in March in which climate science experts testified about the proof for anthropogenic global warming.
"We're pleased that the court recognized that the science of global warming is no longer in dispute," he said. "Our litigation forced a public court proceeding on climate science, and now these companies can no longer deny it is real and valid. Our belief remains that these companies are liable for the harm they've caused."
Chevron was predictably pleased with the results.
"Reliable, affordable energy is not a public nuisance but a public necessity," vice president and general counsel for Chevron R. Hewitt Pate told The New York Times.
Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, told The New York Times it was too soon to tell if Alsup's decision would influence judges hearing similar cases around the country.
The cities had filed their suits against the companies using public nuisance law. In previous federal cases concerning climate change, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act superseded nuisance law at the federal level and that it was up to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to deal with such complaints.
Oakland and San Francisco had tried to file public nuisance suits at the state level, while the defendants tried to move the cases to federal courts. Alsup decided the two cities' suits should be tried federally, but the federal judge reviewing the climate liability cases brought by Marin County, San Mateo County and Imperial Beach moved them to state courts.
- Can climate litigation save the world? | Environment | The Guardian ›
- Fossil Fuels on Trial: Where the Major Climate Change Lawsuits ... ›
- Climate Lawsuits, Once Limited to the Coasts, Jump Inland - The ... ›
- Inside the climate change lawsuit pitting Big Oil against San ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Brenda Ekwurzel
When temperatures hit the 80s Fahrenheit in May above latitude 40, sun-seekers hit the parks, lakes, and beaches, and thoughts turn to summer. By contrast, when temperatures lurk in the drizzly 40s and 50s well into flower season, northerners get impatient for summer. But when those 80-degree temperatures visit latitude 64 in Russia, as they just did, and when sleet disrupts Mother's Day weekend in May in Massachusetts, as it just did, thoughts turn to: what is going on here?
By Eoin Higgins
A bill making its way through the Texas legislature would make protesting pipelines a third-degree felony, the same as attempted murder.
By Jeff Turrentine
First off: Bangkok Wakes to Rain, the intricately wrought, elegantly crafted debut novel by the Thai-American author Pitchaya Sudbanthad, isn't really about climate change. This tale set in the sprawling subtropical Thai capital is ultimately a kind of family saga — although its interconnected characters aren't necessarily linked by a bloodline. What binds them is their relationship to a small parcel of urban land on which has variously stood a Christian mission, an upper-class family house, and a towering condominium. All of the characters have either called this place home or had some other significant connection to it.