Baltimore Files Climate Lawsuit Against Oil Companies After Similar Suit Dismissed

Lawsuit comes one day after judge threw out nearly identical complaint from NYC

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July 21, 2018

Officials with the City of Baltimore announced a lawsuit Friday against major oil producers such as Exxon, BP, and Shell Oil, claiming the companies caused damages by contributing to global climate change.

"This lawsuit which we filed this morning is aimed to hold the fossil fuel companies accountable for the harm that has been inflicted on our community," said Baltimore City Solicitor Andre M. Davis said.

The lawsuit is extremely similar to others filed by the cities of San Francisco, New York City, the city and county governments of Boulder, Colorado, and the state of Rhode Island, but some of these efforts haven't fared well in recent weeks.

Just a day before Baltimore's announcement, a federal judge dismissed with prejudice New York City's suit against the oil and energy companies, arguing that actions and remedies to climate problems be should be handled by political bodies like Congress and not by litigation.

"The immense and complicated problem of global warming requires a comprehensive solution that weighs the global benefits of fossil fuel use with the gravity of the impending harms," Judge John F. Keenan wrote in the New York City decision. "To litigate such an action for injuries from foreign greenhouse gas emissions in federal court would severely infringe upon the foreign-policy decisions that are squarely within the purview of the political branches of the U.S. Government."

In late June, a federal judge in California employed similar reasoning when dismissing a climate suit from San Francisco and Oakland.

"The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case," Judge William Alsup said in the California cases.

Baltimore's lawsuit is being filed in state court. However, some of the similar lawsuits were also filed at the local level and were then later kicked to federal court.

Lindsey de la Torre with the Manufacturers Accountability Project said the lawsuit had "little chance in the courtroom."

"It’s time for politicians and trial lawyers to put an end to this frivolous litigation," de la Torre said in a statement. "Taxpayer resources should not be used for baseless lawsuits that are designed to enrich trial lawyers and grab headlines for politicians. This abuse of our legal system does nothing to advance meaningful solutions, which manufacturers are focused on every day."

The Manufacturers Accountability Project is run by the National Association of Manufacturers, which has generally acted as the surrogate spokesperson for the energy producers.

Most of these lawsuits have argued that the oil companies knew as early as the 1980s and 90s that fossil fuels contributed to climate change, yet engaged in a coverup of that research and then set about creating a public relations campaign to downplay the science.

That idea then morphed into the #ExxonKnew political campaign, where some, such as Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, have tried to draw an analogy to the tobacco industry of the 60s and 70s. Later in the 90s, tobacco producers entered into a "global settlement" of about $365 billion after more than 40 states initiated legal action against them.

At the Friday announcement of Baltimore's lawsuit, congressional representatives from the offices of Sen. Ben Cardin (D.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D.) were in attendance to show their support for the effort, according to Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.

Published under: Climate Change