Exxon bumps Minn. climate lawsuit to federal bench

Source: By Jennifer Hijazi, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Exxon Mobil Corp. pushed another major climate case to federal court this week, launching a battle over venue with Minnesota’s top lawyer.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) filed a consumer protection lawsuit last month against Exxon, Koch Industries and the American Petroleum Institute alleging that industry interests misled Minnesota residents about the effect of fossil fuel use on global warming (E&E News PM, June 24).

Exxon moved the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota on Monday, arguing that Ellison’s claims are political in nature and raise questions that belong before a federal bench, rather than Minnesota’s Ramsey County District Court, where the case was originally filed.

“This suit is neither about consumer protection nor properly brought under state law,” attorneys for Exxon wrote. “Plaintiff purposefully wades into complex federal statutory, regulatory, and constitutional issues, and attempts to substitute one state’s judgment for longstanding decisions by the federal government about national and international energy policy and environmental protection.”

Minnesota’s lawsuit is one of many U.S. climate challenges that have been mired in procedural wrangling over whether the cases should be heard by state or federal judges.

In a separate batch of cases, U.S. cities, counties and states suing the industry for compensation for climate impacts have filed in state court, but oil companies have tried to move the lawsuits to federal venues. A federal judge could find that the municipalities’ claims are preempted by the Clean Air Act.

Some experts predict that moving climate lawsuits rooted in consumer protection laws to federal court may be a tougher lift for oil companies (Climatewire, June 29).

District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine (D) filed a similar consumer protection lawsuit at D.C. Superior Court a day after Ellison announced his challenge. Exxon removed Racine’s action to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia earlier this month (Climatewire, July 20).

Ellison and Racine are among a growing band of Democratic attorneys general who are arguing in court that oil and gas firms have been part of a long-standing coordinated campaign to hide the damaging effects of climate change caused by widespread consumption of fossil fuels. Embattled companies say the lawsuits are part of a politically motivated scheme to target the industry over climate damages.

An earlier consumer protection lawsuit, filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D), was recently thrown back to state court.