January 14, 2018

SUING THE INDUSTRIAL AGE: New York City’s lawsuit against oil companies for having caused Superstorm Sandy is absurd.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced yesterday that New York City is filing a lawsuit against Big Oil, seeking unspecified damages that will likely total in the tens of billions of dollars. The immediate cause for the suit, filed against BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell, is the damage and expenses associated with climate change— caused by the oil companies, on this view. In particular, the city wants to recoup the costs of rebuilding from Superstorm Sandy and the $20 billion that it plans to spend on storm resiliency. The fossil-fuel energy industry, the city’s lawsuit claims, “deliberately engaged in a campaign of deception and denial about global warming and its impacts, even while profiting from the sale of fossil fuels.”

Asked about the litigation strategy, de Blasio dismissed the suggestion that it might be hard to prove that the defendants caused the hurricane. “I think we are going to win the argument that climate change exists; I feel really confident about that one,” he chuckled. “And I think it’s pretty clear these five companies had something to do with it.” New York City corporation counsel Zachary Carter described the case as a straightforward tort action, based on damages from Sandy. “The theory of this lawsuit,” explained Carter, “is it exploits our nuisance laws, and that both in terms of public and private nuisance we believe that’s a cause of action that . . .  gives us certain strategic advantages in litigation.” The $200 billion, multi-state tobacco industry settlement, reached in 1998, is the model for the city’s litigation, said the mayor. “The tobacco analogy is important,” he observed, explaining that a cultural change occurred after Big Tobacco admitted to having buried evidence that cigarette use is unhealthy. “We no longer assume that the fossil fuel companies are innocent; in fact, if we identify them as guilty, it changes the reality . . . and that can spread like wildfire.”

So when does de Blasio give up his own personal addiction? An article in the New York Times headlined “Battling Climate Change from the Back Seat of an S.U.V” notes:

Purring in the mild winter day, a small armada of S.U.V.s was parked Thursday morning along 42nd Street outside the New York Public Library. Inside was Mayor Bill de Blasio, at an interfaith prayer breakfast that went on for quite a while.

By divine right of mayoralty, or someone, 13 vehicles waited at the curb in a no-standing zone, among them four black S.U.V.s (three Chevy Suburbans and one Yukon XL) an ambulance, a huge E.M.S. vehicle and a police school safety van. The engines on those big boys were running while the mayor was inside, for about two hours.

* * * * * * *

Many mornings, Mr. De Blasio is driven 11 miles to his gym in Park Slope, Brooklyn, from the official mayor’s residence on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Gracie Mansion.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, Exxon is taking the advice of a famous community organizer and punching back twice as hard:

Notwithstanding their claims of imminent, allegedly near-certain harm, none of the municipalities disclosed to investors such risks in their respective bond offerings, which collectively netted over $8 billion for these local governments over the last 27 years. To the contrary, some of the disclosures affirmatively denied any ability to measure those risks; the others virtually ignored them. At least two municipal governments [one of them San Mateo] reassured investors that they were “unable to predict whether sea-level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm will occur, when they may occur, and if any such events occur, whether they will have a material adverse effect on the business operations or financial condition of the County and the local economy.”

As Steve Hayward asks at Power Line, “So which is it, San Mateo—serious climate risk or not? What happened to those certain probabilities in your lawsuit?”

I suspect a similar disparity can be found in New York State municipal bond offerings.

Update: “Not absurd but logical,” Richard Fernandez tweets, responding to de Blasio suing the oil industry. “The public’s biggest problem is its refusal to take Left Wing and Islamist declarations at face value. They mean it. Every single word.”

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