On Friday, the state of California filed a lawsuit against many of the largest oil firms in the world, saying the businesses misled the public by minimising the dangers presented by fossil fuels and causing harm in the tens of billions of dollars.
In San Francisco’s superior court, plaintiffs have launched the newest and largest climate change lawsuit against oil, gas, and coal businesses. It proposes setting up a fund to mitigate climate-related catastrophe costs in the state.
The San Ramon, California-based Chevron, along with oil giants Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, and ConocoPhillips, are also included in the complaint. The American Petroleum Institute, a Washington-based trade organisation representing the petroleum industry, is also named in the lawsuit as a defendant.
Similar lawsuits have been brought in recent years by seven other states and hundreds of municipalities. However, the California action is now one of the largest legal obstacles the fossil fuel sector must overcome.
California is the most populous state in the United States, and its attorney general’s office has brought many high-profile lawsuits that other states have followed. Wildfires, floods, sea-level rise, scorching heat, and even tropical storms have all ravaged California as a result of climate change.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed the case on the state’s citizens’ behalf on Friday night. It asserts that, beginning in the 1950s, the firms and their supporters hid the fact that their goods contributed significantly to global warming from the public by playing down the hazards associated with using fossil fuels. It claims that Exxon, Chevron, and the others have been dishonest about their efforts to reduce emissions in recent years, instead focusing on alternative fuels and bragging about little expenditures in those areas while making record profits from the production of fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.
The state argues in a 135-page lawsuit that corporations and its trade association have known since the 1950s that their emissions will cause catastrophic global warming. They minimised the risks and marketed fossil fuels as safe rather than alerting the public, seeking to limit their emissions, or investing in cleaner technology.
The lawsuit states that the corporations have reneged on their promises to cut emissions and are still engaging in greenwashing by advertising particular varieties of petrol as ecologically benign.
Record high temperatures, drought and water shortages, wildfires, intense storms, floods, agricultural damage, coastline erosion, and biodiversity loss are just some of the impacts of climate change that are documented in the case.
Many of the lawsuits against fossil fuel firms were originally filed in state court, but the businesses attempted to have them transferred to federal court. Experts think municipalities have a greater chance of recovering damages in state court, but the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on the topic earlier this year.
Instead, Mr. Bonta is advocating for the establishment of a state-wide fund to support mitigation and adaptation initiatives, as well as disaster recovery. According to the complaint, California has already spent billions of dollars on climate catastrophes and will continue to incur far larger expenditures in the years to come.
Such a financial mechanism has been used before. Several municipalities in California filed suit against lead paint manufacturers for the same reasons. Companies finally settled their decades-long lawsuit for $305 million, with the money going into an abatement fund.