California Locales Sue Fossil Fuel Companies for Rising Seas

Credit: Michael Fraley Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Anne C Mulkern | Scientific American | July 19, 2017

The locales say that actions by oil, natural gas and coal companies intensified climate change

Two California counties and a city yesterday sued 37 oil, natural gas and coal companies and trade groups, saying their actions intensified climate change and exacerbated costly sea-level rise.

San Mateo County and Marin County in the San Francisco Bay Area and Imperial Beach in San Diego County in separate court filings sued companies that included Chevron Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp., BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Citgo Petroleum Corp., ConocoPhillips Co. and Arch Coal Inc. and trade groups that included the American Petroleum Institute and California-based Western States Petroleum Association.

“Defendants have known for nearly 50 years that greenhouse gas pollution from their fossil fuel products has a significant impact on the Earth's climate and sea levels,” the lawsuits said. “With that knowledge, Defendants took steps to protect their own assets from these threats through immense internal investment in research, infrastructure improvements, and plans to exploit new opportunities in a warming world.”

Rather than working to reduce fossil fuel use and lower emissions, the claims added, “Defendants concealed the dangers, sought to undermine public support for greenhouse gas regulation, and engaged in massive campaigns to promote the ever-increasing use of their products at ever greater volumes.”

WSPA In-House General Counsel Oyango Snell in a statement said, “We are aware of the lawsuit and monitoring the situation closely; but as a matter of policy, we don't comment on active litigation.” Exxon Mobil and Chevron also declined to comment. Some of the other oil companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The locales said that they are facing “mounting costs” to respond to rising sea levels, including roadways frequently flooded by storms and by king tides — an especially high tide around the full moon in fall months.

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