A lawsuit filed by New York City that tried to hold oil companies responsible for global warming was rejected by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan.
The ruling was a victory for BP Plc, Chevron Corp, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp, and Royal Dutch Shell Plc. The court ruled that the case didn’t belong in state court and the problem of greenhouse gas emissions must be addressed at the federal level.
The city tried to sue under the state’s “nuisance law” for damages caused by the production and sale of fossil fuels that even the city admitted was perfectly legal.
“Global warming presents a uniquely international problem of national concern,” Circuit Judge Richard Sullivan wrote for a three-judge panel. “It is therefore not well-suited to the application of state law.”
Sullivan added that while the Clean Air Act did not address emissions from outside the country, foreign policy concerns and the risk of courts “stepping on the toes of the political branches” barred the city’s lawsuit.
Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s law department, said the city was disappointed it could not hold the oil companies “accountable for the environmental damage they knew their products would cause.”
Did the oil companies “know” their products were causing “environmental damage”? Greenpeace claims that Exxon knew about global warming as far back as 1981 when one of the company’s scientists wrote a memo to Exxon executives warning of climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels.
In fact, all the major oil companies had performed extensive research on the impact of their products on the environment. But then, as now, there was disagreement about how much, if at all, the burning of fossil fuels impacted the climate.
Thursday’s decision upheld a July 2018 dismissal by U.S. District Judge John Keenan. Since then, some states have tried their luck in state court. This kind of lawfare won’t stop with a few legal setbacks. The deep pockets of oil companies are too tempting a target for states and activist groups looking for a big payday to pass up.