Honolulu sues Big Oil for climate damages

Source: By Jennifer Hijazi, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Honolulu yesterday launched the latest legal battle against oil and gas companies over who should pay for climate change impacts like sea-level rise.

The city, which announced its intent to sue last year, submitted its challenge in the Oahu 1st Circuit Court after approval from the City Council (Climatewire, Nov. 6, 2019).

Josh Stanbro, Honolulu’s chief resilience officer, said during a press conference announcing the lawsuit that the city is following the footsteps of dozens of other municipalities challenging oil companies for “unjustly having to bear climate change and its impacts due to the information that’s been withheld over time by the fossil fuel corporations.”

He said the complaint echoes tobacco and opioid nuisance litigation, noting that fossil fuel companies knew for “decades and decades” that their products would cause “tremendous” local damage and that taxpayers would end up footing the bill. Stanbro noted that climate change may have cost Honolulu billions of dollars but that the exact figure would emerge during trial in the case.

“Instead of disclosing that information, [oil and gas companies] actually covered up the information,” he said. “They promoted science that wasn’t sound and in the process have sowed confusion with the public, with regulators and with local governments such as ourselves around what the true damages of these products were.”

Phil Goldberg, special counsel for the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project, said the lawsuit will cost taxpayers more by “scapegoating” the industry.

“People throughout Honolulu and the entire state of Hawaii need energy to power their homes and businesses, as well as the ability to bring tourists, goods and services to the islands,” he said. “The truth is that the best way to fight climate change is to engage with the manufacturing community on the major innovations.”

Maui County also announced plans last fall to fight the oil industry for compensation, but the county has yet to file its lawsuit.

Honolulu and Maui join a slew of other cities, counties and one state attempting to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for the effects of greenhouse gas emissions stemming from oil and gas extraction and use.

Many of those municipal challengers are locked in procedural battles over whether the cases will be heard in state or federal court. Industry attorneys have asked federal courts, which could decide that the claims are preempted by the Clean Air Act, to handle the cases instead.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week decided to keep Baltimore’s climate damages case in state court, handing a preliminary victory to municipalities seeking to preserve their state law claims.