County’s Lawsuit Suing Energy Companies For ‘Climate Change’ Teed Up For Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court may be getting ready to take up a county’s lawsuit alleging oil companies are responsible for environmental damages caused by climate change, the latest development in a campaign by local left-wing officials to influence national climate policy.

The case, brought by Boulder County, Colorado against Suncor Energy and Exxon Mobil, seeks monetary relief for the companies’ decision to burn fossil fuels and allegedly “conceal” the associated dangers, which the county argues “caused, accelerated, an[d] exacerbated the impacts of climate change.” While the companies have appealed the case to the Supreme Court, it still has to decide on the question of jurisdiction, and whether or not the case should be heard in state or federal court.

Boulder isn’t the only local government suing oil companies: local-level climate lawsuits have been occurring for years, and there are similar pending cases in cities across the country, from California to Rhode Island.

These climate lawsuits often cite public nuisance laws — which have historically been used for small-scale land issues, like blocking a public road — as their justification. But, as the Second Circuit recognized when it dismissed New York City’s climate damages lawsuit against Chevron in 2021, the global issue of climate change presents a “uniquely international problem” that is “not well-suited to the application of state law.”

“The goal of a lot of these cases is to actually fundamentally change what companies are doing to accomplish left-wing priorities without passing any laws,” O.H. Skinner, Executive Director of Alliance For Consumers, a nonprofit that defends consumer interests, told the DCNF. With big enough penalties, cities can force companies to capitulate and simply “stop selling gas in certain states, stop pumping oil, stop selling products,” he said.

At the invitation of the Supreme Court, the Biden administration weighed in on the jurisdiction question last week, advising the Court to leave the matter in state courts.

Energy companies prefer the matter be resolved in federal court, in part because of the luck they’ve had there in previous rulings, Skinner told the DCNF. Cities and the Biden administration, however, prefer the matter to play out in state courts, where judges appointed by Democratic governors are friendlier to their cause.

“Cities and trial lawyers have read the room,” Skinner told the DCNF, seeking out states where judges will “want to solve those problems in the courtroom.” Trial lawyers, he noted, are also some of the biggest donors to judicial election campaigns in left-wing states.

One pending climate case was brought by Honolulu, Hawaii. There, hearing the case at the state level would mean putting it before a Hawaii Supreme Court that ruled just last week that its citizens have a right to a “life-sustaining” climate.


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