Judge reignites climate lawsuit

Source: By Jennifer Hijazi, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Judge Derrick Watson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii on Friday restarted proceedings in a climate liability lawsuit brought by the city and county of Honolulu, one of multiple cases seeking financial compensation from major energy producers for local climate change impacts like sea-level rise and wildfires (Climatewire, March 10).

Firms such as Suncor Energy Inc. and Chevron Corp. had won a reprieve in Hawaii’s case while the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considered industry’s pleas to scrap lawsuits led by the city of Oakland and San Mateo County in California.

The companies attempted to extend the stay while the Supreme Court considers an industry appeal in the California lawsuits (Climatewire, Aug. 11).

Watson instead thawed the earlier freeze, citing the narrow odds of a Supreme Court review. He said there’s little chance the companies targeted by Hawaii’s lawsuit will be harmed by letting the case proceed.

“Having considered the issues in San Mateo and City of Oakland, the Court concludes that a stay of the proceedings in this case is no longer appropriate,” the judge, an Obama appointee, wrote in his decision. “There is not a strong likelihood of acceptance of certiorari or reversal.”

A separate case, BP PLC v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, is pending before the high court, which accepts just a small fraction of petitions. Industry attorneys have promised to file a similar bid against the Oakland and San Mateo decisions.

Although cities, counties and states across the country have filed for climate damages in state courts, lawyers for oil and gas firms have tried to remove the cases to federal court, where a judge could find that the claims are preempted by the Clean Air Act. The courts have so far tossed most of the pending cases back to state benches.