Delaware launches latest climate lawsuit against Big Oil

Source: By Jennifer Hijazi, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, September 13, 2020

State Attorney General Kathy Jennings (D) yesterday took 31 fossil fuel firms to Delaware Superior Court, raising claims that the companies violated state negligence, nuisance and consumer protection laws.

Decades of industry’s knowing contributions to climate change through the promotion and production of oil and gas has forced Delaware residents to foot the bill for warming effects like sea-level rise, the state argued in its complaint, which targets companies like Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP PLC as well as the American Petroleum Institute.

“As a direct and proximate consequence of Defendants’ wrongful conduct described in this Complaint, the environment in and around Delaware is changing, with devastating adverse impacts on the State and its residents, particularly communities of color and low-income communities,” the lawsuit said.

Delaware’s challenge is part of a growing wave of climate lawsuits against oil majors over their alleged deceptions surrounding the fossil fuel industry’s contributions to rising temperatures. The cities of Hoboken, N.J., and Charleston, S.C., are the latest to join the fray (Climatewire, Sept. 10).

Though oil companies have fought to toss climate challenges from the courts, battles are still pending in more than a dozen local and federal benches.

“[This case] is not about stopping climate change, it’s about Delaware surviving it,” Jennings said at a press conference announcing her action.

“This is an old-fashioned lawsuit … that the courts in Delaware are ideally suited to handle, which means that we are seeking money damages for harm done to our state presently and for harm that will befall us, unfortunately, in the future,” she said.

Energy companies and industry groups have said that cases like Delaware’s are political vehicles that don’t offer meaningful solutions to the problem of climate change.

“Filing a bunch of these lawsuits is a political strategy by a handful of environmental advocates trying to scapegoat energy manufacturers when, in reality, fighting climate change is a shared global challenge that requires collaboration and innovation to overcome,” said Phil Goldberg, special counsel for the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project.

Delaware Sen. Tom Carper (D) threw his support behind Jennings’ lawsuit and said in a statement yesterday that some energy companies still aren’t making good faith efforts to address climate impacts.

“Families and businesses in our state are already experiencing the environmental and economic consequences of the worsening climate crisis,” he said in the statement.

“It is unfortunate that litigation is necessary to drag those remaining bad actors into the light,” he said, “but my hope is that this litigation will hold those actors accountable.”

Environmental law firm Sher Edling LLP represents Delaware in the case