Bay Area cities sue oil companies for climate fund
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September 25, 2017
Bay Area cities sue oil companies for climate fund

In separate suits, the city attorneys of San Francisco and Oakland, California, are asking the state Supreme Court to hold the world’s five largest investor-owned oil companies responsible for actions the cities must take to hold back rising sea levels caused by climate change.

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According to the complaints, the companies have continued to produce fossil fuels even though they have been long aware that generated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions adversely alter the earth’s environment.

“The People seek an order requiring Defendants to abate the global warming-induced sea level rise nuisance to which they have contributed by funding an abatement program to build sea walls and other infrastructure that is urgently needed to protect human safety and public and private property in San Francisco,” state the attorneys.

10-foot sea rise

The cities note that a recent state report (Rising Seas in California), projects as much as 10 feet of additional sea level rise along San Francisco’s coastline by 2100.

“In Oakland and San Francisco, property worth billions of dollars is located six feet or less above current sea levels,” say the city attorneys. “In San Francisco, bayside sea level rise from global warming places at risk at least $10 billion of public property and as much as $39 billion of private property. In Oakland, these disastrous consequences will disproportionately impact and endanger the lives and property of African American, Hispanic and other people of color as well as low income populations who reside in West Oakland and the flatlands of East Oakland.”

Companies were warned

The five companies targeted in the suits are Chevron, Exxon Mobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips—respectively, the first, second, fourth, sixth, and ninth largest producers of fossil fuel worldwide from the mid-19th century to the present.

The suits are largely grounded in the allegation that the companies have continued to produce fossil fuels despite their scientific understanding of the environmental impacts.

“Recent disclosures of internal industry documents demonstrate that [the companies] have done so despite knowing—since at least the late 1970s and early 1980s, if not earlier—that massive fossil fuel usage would cause dangerous global warming,” the complaints state, adding that “most of the global warming pollution from usage of their fuels has accumulated in the atmosphere since 1980.”

“It was at that time that scientists on their staffs or with whom they consulted through their trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, investigated the science and warned them in stark terms that fossil fuel usage would cause global warming at a rate unprecedented in the history of human civilization and present risks of ‘catastrophic’ harm in coming decades.”

Despite this, the complaints continue, defendants proceeded to increase their production of fossil fuels.

“Even today, with the global warming danger level at a critical phase, defendants continue to engage in massive fossil fuel production and execute long-term business plans to continue and even expand their fossil fuel production for decades into the future,” the complaints state.

Shifting the cost

The suits do not seek to impose liability on the companies; neither do they seek to restrain the companies from engaging in their business practices.

“This case is, fundamentally, about shifting the costs of abating sea level rise harm—one of global warming’s gravest harms—back to the companies,” the complaints state.

The two complaints are available here.

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