Quantcast
Energy
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin announced on July 2 that the state has filed a lawsuit against 21 Big Oil companies for their contributions to the climate crisis. @AGKilmartin / Twitter

'Watershed Moment for Climate Liability' as Rhode Island Files Historic Lawsuit Against 21 Big Oil Companies

By Jessica Corbett

In what advocates are calling a "watershed moment" for climate litigation, Rhode Island's Democratic Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin announced on Monday that the state has filed a lawsuit against 21 major oil companies—including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell—"for knowingly contributing to climate change, and causing catastrophic consequences to Rhode Island, our economy, our communities, our residents, our ecosystems."


"This lawsuit marks the first in the country filed on behalf of a state and its citizens against Big Oil," Kilmartin declared. "For a very long time there has been this perception that they, Big Oil, were too big to take on, but here we are—the smallest state, the Ocean State—taking on the biggest, most powerful corporate polluters in the world, because it's the right thing to do. They need to be held accountable."

The suit is supported by Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, Reps. Jim Langevin and David Cicilline and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse—all Democrats. Whitehouse, a congressional leader on climate action, commended Kilmartin for "holding some of the world's most powerful corporations responsible for the damage they're inflicting on our coastal economy, infrastructure, and way of life."

Bill McKibben, cofounder of 350.org, called it a "major" development:

The filing comes on the heels of a similar pair of landmark lawsuits brought by two cities in California, which U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup dismissed last week. Following Kilmartin's announcement, Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity, said the Rhode Island suit "takes climate liability to another level, and puts Judge Alsup's recent decision in the rearview mirror."

"When state attorneys general start filing suit it's a game changer, as it was with tobacco and currently is in opioid litigation. In the same way, Rhode Island's lawsuit is a watershed moment for climate liability," Wiles added. "Kilmartin recognized that if polluters don't pay, then taxpayers will, and that is completely unacceptable."

As the complaint filed in the Rhode Island Superior Court, outlines:

Defendants, major corporate members of the fossil fuel industry, have known for nearly half a century that unrestricted production and use of their fossil fuel products create greenhouse gas pollution that warms the planet and changes our climate. They have known for decades that those impacts could be catastrophic and that only a narrow window existed to take action before the consequences would be irreversible. They have nevertheless engaged in a coordinated, multi-front effort to conceal and deny their own knowledge of those threats, discredit the growing body of publicly available scientific evidence, and persistently create doubt in the minds of customers, consumers, regulators, the media, journalists, teachers, and the public about the reality and consequences of the impacts of their fossil fuel pollution.

Speaking at the iconic Narragansett Sea Wall, Kilmartin explained the specific allegations against these oil companies, including that they "created, contributed to, and assisted in creating the conditions in Rhode Island that constitute a public nuisance," and "violated the state's Environmental Rights Act by polluting, impairing, and destroying natural resources of the state."

"Rhode Island seeks to ensure that the parties who have profited from externalizing the responsibility for sea level rise, drought, extreme precipitation events, heatwaves, other results of the changing hydrologic and meteorological regime caused by global warming, and associated consequences of those physical and environmental changes, bear the costs of those impacts on Rhode Island," the complaint concludes, "rather than the state, the local taxpayers, residents, or broader segments of the public."

"Taxpayers should not be expected to shoulder the steep financial burden of rebuilding after super storms like Harvey and Irma, or the yet to be named storms that will only increase in frequency if climate change continues unabated," asserted Greenpeace climate campaigner Naomi Ages, praising Kilmartin for his leadership. "Despite having clear evidence that its products were harming the planet, the fossil fuel industry failed to warn consumers and regulators about the dangers. For this, it must pay."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Politics
Mike Pence at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, MD. Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0

Pence Family Gas Station Failures Cost Taxpayers More Than $20 Million

A failed gas station empire owned by the family of Vice President Mike Pence has left communities in his home state saddled with millions of dollars in ongoing cleanup costs, the AP reported this weekend.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Emilie Chen / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Against All Odds, Mountain Gorilla Numbers Are on the Rise

By Jason Bittel

The news coming out of East Africa's Virunga Mountains these days would have made the late (and legendary) conservationist Dian Fossey very happy. According to the most recent census, the mountain gorillas introduced to the world in Gorillas in the Mist, Fossey's book and the film about her work, have grown their ranks from 480 animals in 2010 to 604 as of June 2016. Add another couple hundred apes living in scattered habitats to the south, and their population as a whole totals more than 1,000. Believe it or not, this makes the mountain gorilla subspecies the only great apes known to be increasing in number.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
WeWork offers small businesses workspace in a collaborative community. Jonathan Wiggs / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

$20 Billion Startup WeWork Goes Vegetarian, Citing Environmental Concerns

Growing office-space startup WeWork is introducing a new flavor of corporate sustainability with its announcement Thursday that the entire company is going vegetarian, CNN Tech reported Friday.

The company of around 6,000 will no longer serve meat at events or reimburse employees for pork, red meat or poultry.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Greenpeace activists unfurled two large banners in the high bell tower of Kallio church in Helsinki, Finland on Monday. Greenpeace

'Warm Our Hearts Not Our Planet': Greenpeace Demands Climate Action From Trump and Putin

By Jessica Corbett

As U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin came together in Helsinki, Finland on Monday for a closely watched summit, Greenpeace activists partnered with a local parish to unfurl two massive banners on the Kallio church's bell tower to call on the leaders to "warm our hearts not our planet."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Many roofs were torn off when high winds from Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. U.S. Air Force photo by A1C Nicholas Dutton

Hurricane Maria Aftermath: FEMA Admits to Deadly Mistakes in Puerto Rico

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was sorely unprepared to handle Hurricane Maria and the subsequent crisis in Puerto Rico, the agency admitted in an internal performance assessment memo released last week.

FEMA's after-action report details how the agency's warehouse on the island was nearly empty due to relief efforts from Hurricane Irma when Maria made landfall last September, with no cots or tarps and little food and water.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks to staff at the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters on July 11 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

3 Ways Andrew Wheeler Can Help Restore the EPA’s Dignity and Mission

By Jeff Turrentine

Plenty has been written in the past week about Andrew Wheeler, who has taken over as interim U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator after Scott Pruitt's abrupt yet way overdue resignation. (Some of us were even writing about Wheeler months ago!)

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
Bob Berg / Getty Images

How Summer and Diet Damage Your DNA, and What You Can Do

By Adam Barsouk

Today, your body will accumulate quadrillions of new injuries in your DNA. The constant onslaught of many forms of damage, some of which permanently mutates your genes, could initiate cancer and prove fatal. Yet all is not doomed: The lives we lead determine how well our cells can handle this daily molecular erosion.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme / Maxime Aliaga

300+ Mammal Species Could Still Be Discovered, Scientists Say

By Sara Novak

You can't protect an animal that you don't know exists. Tapanuli orangutans, for example, are found only in the Tapanuli region of Sumatra; they were only identified as a species last year, when scientists found them to be genetically different from other Bornean and Sumatran orangutans. With just 800 left, this newly discovered species is the most critically endangered ape.

It's hard to believe that with only seven great ape species on the planet—Tapanuli, Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, eastern and western gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos—a species could have gone undiscovered until 2017. But, in fact, new research shows that many mammals still fly under the radar.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!