Judge dismisses New York City's climate change lawsuit against oil companies

Rodiano Bonacci
Luglio 23, 2018

Here's Judge Keenan in the NY case: "The huge and complicated problem of global warming requires a comprehensive solution that weighs the global benefits of fossil fuel use with the gravity of the impending harms. But these same defendants and their trade groups have fought successfully against even modest laws and regulations to cut the carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels that causes global warming", Ken Kimmel, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists said in a statement.

The city had argued that the defendants ― Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell ― had known about the risks posed by burning fossil fuels since the 1950s and had "engaged in an overt public relations campaign meant to cast doubt on climate science", an argument Keenan acknowledged in his decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court has expressly held, in 2011's American Electric Power Company v. CT (131 S.CT. 2527), the Clean Air Act displaces federal common law claims based on fossil fuel emissions.

However, environmental law experts said judges trying similar cases in state courts might rule differently.

Seth Stein, a spokesman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, said the city would appeal. "The benefits of fossil fuels are worldwide", Judge Alsup said in his ruling.

Trial lawyers with Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP handled climate lawsuits on behalf of the two California cities and New York City in exchange for a percentage of any winnings, called a contingency fee.

Chevron attorney Theodore J. Boutrous of the law firm Gibson Dunn said that Judge Keenan "got it exactly right". The climate threats facing New York City are overwhelming, and taxpayers are already paying to protect the city from future Sandy-scale damages. The fossil fuel companies are appealing that decision.

"Judge Keenan made that clear in his decision today", said Mr. Timmons in a statement. "We remain optimistic that the majority of these cases will end up in state court where they belong, and that taxpayers will ultimately prevail in their efforts to recover costs".

The court concluded, "given the interstate nature of these claims, it would ... be illogical to allow the City to bring state law claims when courts have found that these matters are areas of federal concern that have been delegated to the Executive Branch as they require a uniform, national solution".

"Thus, to the extent that the City seeks to hold Defendants liable for damages stemming from foreign greenhouse gas emissions, the City's claims are barred by the presumption against extraterritoriality and the need for judicial caution in the face of 'serious foreign policy consequences, '" Keenan said, citing a 2018 District Court ruling in Virginia.

Keenan said the lawsuit implicates countless foreign governments and their laws and policies. "Accordingly, the court will exercise appropriate caution and decline to recognize such a cause of action".

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