Calif. cities sue oil giants: ‘Now the bill has come due’

Source: Benjamin Hulac, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, September 21, 2017

San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., unveiled lawsuits yesterday against five oil companies, arguing that a handful of deep-pocketed corporations have put the future and health of both cities in jeopardy, despite the industry’s long-standing knowledge of man-made climate change.

Attorneys for the cities announced the lawsuits, filed in local courts, this morning at a press conference with their backs to the San Francisco Bay.

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

“Now the bill has come due,” Herrera said. “It’s time for these companies to take responsibility for the harms they have caused and are continuing to cause.”

Herrera and Barbara Parker, the city attorney of Oakland, filed the cases on behalf of the state of California. They named the five biggest publicly traded oil companies in the world — BP PLC, Chevron Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips Co. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC — as the defendants.

By filing their cases as “public nuisance” lawsuits, the cities argue the companies have endangered public safety by contributing to rising sea levels on their coasts. Two California counties and a city filed comparable lawsuits in July (Climatewire, July 18).

Plaintiffs want the defendants to be found liable for contributing to the public health risks of global warming, and they want the companies to pay for infrastructure to protect the cities, such as sea walls.

In court papers, Oakland and San Francisco say the burning of “massive quantities of fossil fuels,” extracted, marketed and sold by the defendants, has driven up water levels, which are now lapping at their shores.

Both complaints, filed late last night, show flood maps, charting areas of San Francisco and Oakland projected to be under water in the coming decades.

They also cite an internal Exxon document, dated Nov. 12, 1982, that predicts global temperatures will rise 3 degrees Celsius before the century ends.

“The harm to our cities has commenced and will only get worse,” Parker said in a statement. “The law is clear that the defendants are responsible for the consequences of their reckless and disastrous actions.”