Big Oil on trial in Rhode Island for contributing to the global climate crisis

Some of the largest oil companies in the world could be on the verge of having to pay untold sums of money to compensate for their part in contributing to the climate crisis gripping the globe, according to Common Dreams, which reported on a lawsuit in Rhode Island that has been allowed to move forward in state court:

“In what one advocate called a ‘big win’ for climate liability litigation, a federal judge on Monday remanded Rhode Island’s lawsuit targeting 21 fossil fuel giants to state court, where the oil and gas companies are more likely to be forced to pay for their significant contributions to the global climate crisis.”

Four oil industry giants — BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell — are included in the lawsuit and have been accused of “externalizing the responsibility” (including sea level rise, drought, extreme precipitation, and heatwaves) and expecting taxpayers to pay for the damage caused by the products made by Big Oil.

The suit, which was initially filed in state court, was fought by the fossil fuel industry with a frequently used tactic: Trying to have the case moved to federal court where it’s easier for corporations to win.

But U.S. District Court Judge William Smith ruled in favor of the state, writing:

“Because there is no federal jurisdiction under the various statutes and doctrines adverted to by defendants, the court grants the state’s motion to remand.

“Climate change is expensive, and the state wants help paying for it.”

Judge Smith also suggested fossil fuel companies had known for decades that they were causing climate change:

“What is more, defendants understood the consequences of their activity decades ago, when transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy would have saved a world of trouble.”

“But instead of sounding the alarm, defendants went out of their way to becloud the emerging scientific consensus and further delay changes—however existentially necessary—that would in any way interfere with their multi-billion-dollar profits. All while quietly readying their capital for the coming fallout.”

Ann Carlson—an environmental law professor at UCLA’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, hailed Judge Smith’s ruling as a victory for states that are seeking to hold oil companies responsible for the damage they’ve done:

“The district court’s decision to send Rhode Island’s case back to state court is important because what the oil companies are really after is dismissal of the case under federal law.

“They want a big substantive outcome—to get rid of the case all together.”

Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity, told The Hill that “this is more bad news for Exxon and a welcome sign for taxpayers and local governments seeking just compensation for climate damages oil and gas companies knowingly caused.”


Featured Image Via Public Domain Pictures


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Andrew Bradford

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