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Oil Companies Ask Judge to Kill NYC’s Global Warming Lawsuit

By Bob Van Voris: 4 May 2018, 23:09 BST Updated on 5 May 2018, 02:09 BST

  • Case affects global economy, national security, companies say

  • New York argues oil companies denied climate change science

This lawsuit is based upon the fundamental principle that a corporation that makes a product causing severe harm when used exactly as intended should shoulder the costs of abating that harm. Defendants here produced, marketed, and sold massive quantities of fossil fuels—primarily oil and natural gas—despite knowing that the combustion and use of fossil fuels emit greenhouse gases (“GHG pollution” or “GHGs”), primarily carbon dioxide (“CO2”). Defendants have also known for decades that GHG pollution accumulates and remains in the atmosphere for up to hundreds of years, where it traps heat, a process commonly referred to as “climate change” or “global warming,” and that this process would cause grave harm.

Five of the world’s biggest oil companies asked a judge to throw out New York City’s lawsuit seeking to hold them responsible for costs related to the environmental changes caused by their products. 

BP Plc, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp., and Royal Dutch Shell Plc argued that the court lacks the authority to resolve broad policy questions with “profound implications for the global economy, international relations and America’s national security.”

“Plaintiff attempts to use state tort law to regulate the nationwide — indeed, worldwide — activity of companies that play a key role in virtually every sector of the global economy,” the companies said. They urged U.S. District Judge John Keenan, who’s overseeing the case, to follow the example of other judges who have rejected similar suits.

The companies argue that claims involving the effect of greenhouse gases on the environment must be considered under federal, rather than state, law. And federal law doesn’t permit the type of claims New York is pursuing, they said.

New York, the biggest U.S. city, sued the companies in January, claiming they’re the world’s largest public companies contributing to global warming. The city claims the companies have denied the findings of climate-change scientists despite knowing that the use of gas and oil posed “grave risk” to the planet. New York claims the oil companies’ actions constitute a “public nuisance” — an illegal threat to community welfare.

New York City says the companies have contributed to rising sea levels and more frequent extreme weather events, including storms and heat waves that threaten to harm the city and the people who live in it.

“Defendants knowingly and substantially contributed to climate change,” lawyers for the city argued in papers arguing that Keenan should let the case go forward. “They are not exempt from tort law claims requiring them to internalize the environmental costs of their products instead of foisting them onto property owners, local governments, and the public.”

Keenan will consider both sides’ arguments in a June 13 hearing. On May 24, a judge in San Francisco will consider whether to dismiss similar suits filed against the companies by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco. 

The case is New York v. BP P.L.C., 18-cv-182, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). Above text in red print is an extract from the relevant court document.

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