Federal judge tosses out climate change lawsuit

23 July, 2018, 02:54 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • Climate change-driven extreme weather has driven home the reason for New York City climate suit

A federal judge in Manhattan dismissed New York City's lawsuit against five major oil companies Thursday, ruling that climate change and its effects are global issues that extend beyond the court's reach.

"However, the enormous 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", Keenan ruled. In January, the city first filed a lawsuit against the energy companies, arguing that they were liable for damages the city incurred as a result of global warming.

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.

"It's up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making NY safer and more resilient", left-leaning Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio had told reporters back in January.

"Judge Keenan's decision reaffirms our view that climate change is a complex societal challenge that requires sound governmental policy and is not an issue for the courts", Shell said in a statement.

"To litigate such an action for injuries from foreign greenhouse gas emissions in federal court would severely infringe upon the foreign-policy decisions that are squarely within the purview of the political branches of the U.S. Government", Keenan wrote for the court.


Keenan also said that because the city has benefitted from fossil fuels, a point emphasized by the oil companies in their hearing in front of Keenan, the city is culpable for climate change as well. "Judge Keenan made that clear in his decision today".

The city tried to use state law to sue the companies to avoid running afoul of a 2011 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court against a suit that used federal public nuisance law to target five big power companies.

Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity, emphasized that "the central question of these lawsuits is not how to stop global warming, but whether oil and gas producers should be forced to pay even a cent for the massive damage caused by its products".

Meanwhile, other climate liability lawsuits are pending in courts in California, King County, Wash., Colorado, and Rhode Island.

"Both judges determined that federal common law governs the cities" claims because pollution is an interstate issue.

"It does show that Judge Alsup's decision has resonated with at least one other judge, and I wouldn't be surprised if other judges also find the reasoning persuasive", he said. The Supreme Court has acknowledged that private plaintiffs can bring federal tort claims, both Keenan and Alsup wrote, but its most recent decisions have urged federal courts to be extremely leery of overextending the reach of US laws and intruding in matters that implicate foreign policy concerns.

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