I Fought the Law; Let’s Talk Climate Litigation
I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, so I hesitate to wade into the ins and outs of environmental case law, but we’re doing so when it comes to the lawsuits that Honolulu and Maui, cities in Maryland and the state of Rhode Island are bringing against Sunoco, Chevron, and BP respectively. These cases revolve around Big Oil companies’ deceptions and disinformation about climate change. Prior lawsuits, such as Massachusetts vs. EPA (2007) or Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp (2012), tried to prove the federal government’s or fossil fuel companies’ responsibilities for climate change because of the emissions associated with their lack of regulation or products. This new set of cases instead focuses on the role that fossil fuel companies played individually and through their industry trade group, the American Petroleum Association, in lying about the effects of carbon emissions on the planet since 1977. The connections between companies’ decisions to hide gives trial lawyers a chance to follow the playbook that led to a $365 billion settlement by Big Tobacco.
This legal strategy seems to be working. In March, Honolulu was the first plaintiff to move past oil companies’ onslaught of motions to dismiss to the discovery phase of a trial. Now the plaintiff and the rest of us will be able to find out exactly what oil companies knew and when they knew it as company officials, environmental experts, environmental scientists, and others are deposed. Unfortunately, the vagaries of lawsuits are many, the pockets of oil companies are deep, and evidential discovery will take years. We don’t have years, but we crave justice and will pursue it even as we pursue other ways to dampen the impact of Big Oil’s crimes and cover up.
Kate Starr, Co-Founder & Chief Investment Officer
Oil and gas giants Exxon and Chevron have just completed one of the most successful quarters in their firm’s history, pulling in $19.7b and $11.2b in profit, respectively. These earnings come at the same time as high oil and natural gas prices which have burdened millions of people across the globe.
Some major US foundations — the Hewlett Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and Leonardo DiCaprio — have funded lawsuits with grants. Consider making a donation to the Collective Action Fund for Accountability, Resilience, and Adaptation, a fiscally sponsored project of the New Venture Fund. The Fund makes charitable grants that enable cities, counties, and states hard hit by climate change to file high-impact climate damage and deception lawsuits represented by expert counsel.
If you want a deep dive into the extent of Big Oil’s efforts to cover up the negative impact of carbon emissions, take a look at this 3-part documentary from PBS’ Frontline. You know they never leave a stone unturned. Denial, doubt, and delay have been the tactics they’ve used to kick the climate can down the road.
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