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California Sues Big Oil For Embuggering Climate, Being Big Fuckin' Liars
The Nation-State of California, the world’s fifth or sixth largest economy (depending on who’s talking and what week it is), is suing some of the biggest players in the oil industry for damages caused by climate change, arguing that Big Oil knew for decades that burning fossil fuels would have catastrophic effects on the planet’s climate, but that the industry conducted a “decades-long campaign of deception” to protect its profits, causing tens of billions of damage in California alone. This could be HUGE.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed the suit Friday in state court in Sacramento, against oil giants Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron (which is headquartered in California), ConocoPhillips, and the oil industry trade group, the American Petroleum Institute (API), that oily hive of scum and villainy.
The suit seeks to establish a “nuisance abatement fund” paid for by the defendants, which would help mitigate damage to the state caused by climate-related extreme weather, as well as injunctions to make the industry stop harming California’s natural resources through pollution. It also demands that the industry be ordered to knock off all its lies and downplaying of the reality of climate change and its connections to fossil fuels.
In a statement, Bonta said,
“Oil and gas companies have privately known the truth for decades — that the burning of fossil fuels leads to climate change — but have fed us lies and mistruths to further their record breaking profits at the expense of our environment. Enough is enough.
“With our lawsuit, California becomes the largest geographic area and the largest economy to take these giant oil companies to court. From extreme heat to drought and water shortages, the climate crisis they have caused is undeniable. It is time they pay to abate the harm they have caused. We will meet the moment and fight tirelessly on behalf of all Californians, in particular those who live in environmental justice communities.”
The 135-page complaint argues that oil companies have known since the 1950s and ‘60s that their product was harmful to the climate, and that even as the scientific consensus became clearer, the oil industry reacted not by pursuing cleaner energy but by funding disinformation campaigns aimed at muddying the link between fossil fuel emissions and global warming. Not to mention oil company greenwashing, like the much-touted (but under-funded and eventually abandoned) ExxonMobil program promising we’d all soon be flying and driving on low-carbon fuels made from algae. That disinformation and distraction led to delays in taking action on climate change, exacerbating its effects.
It’s a pretty good read, if you’re into reading lawsuits; the complaint details how oil companies’ own scientists concluded that carbon emissions would trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere, and how the companies then funded efforts to deny or downplay the very science they knew about. That’s very much the approach taken in prior lawsuits against Big Tobacco and opioid manufacturers. The complaint also details how the API funded astroturf front groups that spread disinformation and doubt,
including, but not limited to, the Global Climate Coalition, Partnership for a Better Energy Future, Coalition for American Jobs, Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth, and Alliance for Climate Strategies.
Gotta love these bastards’ endless creativity in coming up with deceptive names. Frank Luntz would be so proud.
The oil industry flacks were quick to issue statements dismissing the lawsuit and saying climate change is too big an issue to address in state court. Chevron claimed that climate change “is a global problem that requires a coordinated international policy response, not piecemeal litigation for the benefit of lawyers and politicians,” so presumably we’ll have to wait for the Ministry for the Future to come up with a plan.
API Senior Vice President and General Council Ryan Meyers similarly grumbled that the lawsuit is “nothing more than a distraction from important national conversations and an enormous waste of California taxpayer resources,” and that “Climate policy is for Congress to debate and decide, not the court system.”
California’s lawsuit against Big Oil is a big damn deal, the largest of several lawsuits by states and cities seeking damages in the billions from the oil industry. And as the New York Times notes, it just may be crazy — and carefully defined enough — to work:
The fossil fuel companies tried to get many of the cases moved from state court to federal court, where they believed they would face better chances of winning. But earlier this year, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal on the matter, meaning the cases will stay in state court, where experts believe municipalities have a better chance of winning damages.
Two recent lawsuits against big oil companies, one in Puerto Rico and one in Hoboken, N.J., have brought charges under the state and federal versions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act. But the California lawsuit does not bring claims under the state’s RICO act.
The lawsuit also doesn’t seek damages from a specific weather event, a strategy used in the Puerto Rico case and a recent lawsuit from Multnomah County in Oregon.
The Times also points out that Bonta’s preferred mechanism for damages, a fund that would be used to fund recovery, mitigation, and adaptation all over the state, was already used successfully in a 2019 settlement with manufacturers of lead paint.
California’s been pretty busy in climate action lately; in addition to the lawsuit against Big Oil, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Sunday that he will sign a major climate bill passed by the state Legislature that would require companies earning over $1 billion annually to track and disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, including “Scope 3” emissions, which accounts for greenhouse emissions in the supply chain and by end users of a company’s products. That’ll be another first-in-the nation regulation, putting California ahead of the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, which is still developing its own rules.
Needless to say, groups like the California Chamber of Commerce are already crying about how the new law will be a terrible paperwork burden, but let ‘em: Climate accountability will be an increasingly important part of getting emissions under control worldwide.
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