Judge throws out de Blasio's climate change lawsuit against oil companies

Federico Mansilla
Julio 23, 2018

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.

ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP and Royal Dutch Shell won their bid for dismissal of New York City's suit attempting to hold the oil companies responsible for infrastructure damage stemming from climate change.

However, environmental law experts said judges trying similar cases in state courts might rule differently.

"Climate change is a fact of life, as is not contested by Defendants", the judge wrote. Keenan wrote that global warming is a problem best left to the other two branches of government.

Seth Stein, a spokesman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, said the city would appeal. "We intend to appeal this decision and to keep fighting for New Yorkers who will bear the brunt of climate change".

There is little chance of that happening under the current USA administration and Congress, which are dominated by skepticism over the realities of manmade climate change-something that Keenan said was "a fact of life" and that the defendants in the case did not dispute.

As I said, cities and states may yet succeed against oil companies in state court, or may find ways to recraft theories to evade the conclusions Judges Keenan and Alsup reached.

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A lawyer for Chevron says the judge was right to decide it was illogical and an intrusion on the other branches of government to resolve an issue like climate change through litigation.

Keenan said that federal common law governs the city's claims, and therefore, the Clean Air Act displaces those claims.

"From the moment this baseless lawsuit was filed, manufacturers have argued that the courtroom was not the proper venue to address this global challenge", he said.

"Judge Keenan made that clear in his decision today", said Mr. Timmons in a statement. Keenan added that the Supreme Court's AEP ruling may have kept alive the possibility that state law claims are not pre-empted, but that New York City's suit was based on global emissions from the worldwide sale of fossil fuels - not just on oil production in New York - so the AEP's state-law exception doesn't apply.

"As climate change continues to worsen, 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", said Mr.de Blasio, who also announced that the city would divest its fossil-fuel holdings from its $189 billion pension funds.

The ruling is the latest courtroom defeat for a legal strategy that sought to paint Big Oil as similar to Big Tobacco, with claims they pushed for increased sales while hiding the risky effects of their products on the planet.

The state lawsuit, unveiled by Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and other top Democrats, targeted 21 oil-and-gas companies.

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