02 July 2018

California Judge throws out climate change 'baseless' suit against big oil

Climate change an issue for politicians not the courts says California judge as industry group claims lawsuit is 'baseless.'

A judge has rejected lawsuits by San Francisco and Oakland against fossil fuel companies over the costs to the cities of dealing with climate change. The decision is a stinging defeat for the two plaintiff cities, and may deter other local governments around the United States that have filed similar suits, including New York City.

Political problem

Judge William Alsup, of Federal District Court in San Francisco, acknowledged the science of global warming and the great risks to the planet, and the oil and gas companies being sued also acknowledged the problems. However, in his ruling Judge Alsup said the courts were not the proper place to deal with such global issues, and he rejected the legal theory put forth by the cities. In a 16-page opinion, Judge Alsup wrote ‘The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case.’ The cities were requesting that defendants, including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell, to help pay for projects like protecting coastlines from flooding. Judge Alsup ruled the issues would more properly be handled by the other two branches of government. He said the court will stay its hand in favour of solutions by the legislative and executive branches.

Baseless lawsuit

The advocacy group National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) were quick to support the case being dismissed, with the NAM chief executive Jay Timmons calling the actions ‘baseless lawsuits’ and agreeing ‘the courtroom was not the proper venue to address this global challenge.’ Judge Alsup added that climate change is a global issues and the companies are not solely at fault. He wrote ‘Our industrial revolution and the development of our modern world has literally been fueled by oil and coal,’ and that ‘without those fuels, virtually all of our monumental progress would have been impossible.’ He then asked, ‘Would it really be fair to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded? Is it really fair, in light of those benefits, to say that the sale of fossil fuels was unreasonable? However, in a different courtroom in the same building, Judge Vince Chhabria, also of Federal District Court in San Francisco, sent similar cases involving San Mateo and Marin Counties and the City of Imperial Beach to state court. That litigation is pending.