LOS ANGELES – The US state of California is suing five of the world’s largest oil companies, alleging the firms caused billions of dollars in damages and misled the public by minimising the risks from fossil fuels, according to a court filing.
The suit, dismissed by one defendant as “meritless” and “politicised,” follows numerous other cases brought by American cities, counties and states against fossil fuel interests over the impact of climate change as well as alleged disinformation campaigns spanning decades.
The civil case was filed in superior court in San Francisco on Friday against ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips and Chevron, which is headquartered in California. The American Petroleum Institute (API), an industry group, is also a defendant in the case.
“Oil and gas company executives have known for decades that reliance on fossil fuels would cause these catastrophic results, but they suppressed that information from the public and policymakers by actively pushing out disinformation on the topic,” the 135-page complaint read.
“Their deception caused a delayed societal response to global warming. And their misconduct has resulted in tremendous costs to people, property and natural resources, which continue to unfold each day.”
The suit seeks the creation of an abatement fund to pay for future damages caused by climate disasters in California, which is on the front lines of climate change-fueled wildfires, flooding and other extreme weather phenomena. The increasingly heavy financial burden of climate disasters has prompted major US insurance companies to limit their coverage in California. State Farm General Insurance Co. no longer accepts new applications for property and casualty coverage in the state.
“By downplaying the scientific consensus on climate change and emphasising uncertainty, defendants hoped to delay any regulatory action that might seek to reduce or control (greenhouse gas) emissions, thereby threatening the industry’s profits,” the complaint added.
A spokesman for the API slammed the lawsuit, arguing that climate policy “is for Congress to debate and decide, not the court system”.
“This ongoing, coordinated campaign to wage meritless, politicised lawsuits against a foundational American industry and its workers is nothing more than a distraction from important national conversations and an enormous waste of California taxpayer resources,” the spokesman, Andrea Woods, told AFP.
Chevron also hit out against the lawsuit, with a spokesman telling AFP that climate change “is a global problem that requires a coordinated international policy response, not piecemeal litigation for the benefit of lawyers and politicians”.
California “courts have no constructive or constitutionally permissible role in crafting global energy policy,” the spokesman added.
Shell offered a similar take, with a spokesman saying the fossil fuel giant agrees “that action is needed now on climate change” but that the courtroom “is not the right venue”.
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