Climate Liability Litigation

Cases underway to make climate polluters pay

Each of the cases below is designed to make polluters pay for climate change-related damages, including projects to protect their communities from future climate impacts.

  • November 2018 – Crab Fishers

    The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the largest commercial fishermen’s association on the West Coast, sued 30 fossil fuel companies including Chevron, ExxonMobil and BP — marking the first climate liability suit to be filed by one industry against another. Brought on behalf of California and Oregon crabbers and filed in California State Superior Court, the lawsuit demands compensation for economic losses sustained after four straight years of fishery closures due to climate impacts. Plaintiffs cite public health threats and harms to business tied to a rise in toxic algal blooms, among other damages caused by a warming Pacific Ocean and atmospheric temperature increases. Along with negligence, defective product liability and nuisance claims, plaintiffs allege that the consequences they are facing stem from the fossil fuel industry’s failure to issue warning about the hazards their products would inevitably create. “The families and businesses in our coastal communities should not have to bear the costs when fisheries are closed because of domoic acid flare-ups directly linked to fossil fuel companies and global warming,” said PCFFA’s executive director, Noah Oppenheim. “In addition to seeking compensation from fossil fuel companies for losses suffered by crabbers and others from those closures, we’re demanding these companies pay for additional measures that will help mitigate future impacts. Those costs should not fall on the shoulders of hard-working fishermen, first receivers, and their families when the only reason they’re needed is because of what the fossil fuel companies have done.”

  • July 2018 – Baltimore, MD

    The city of Baltimore brought a lawsuit against 26 oil and gas companies whose products — and the decades-long campaigns of deception regarding their repercussions— have left it unduly exposed to an onslaught of climate-caused threats. Impacts cited span from flooding, heatwaves, and sea-level rise to 1,000-year storms (two of which have already occurred in the past two years). Baltimore’s 60 miles of waterfront land, thick with developed communities and one of the most vital ports on the Eastern Seaboard, poses unique risks and expenses necessary to shield the hosts of its jobs, tourism, property and infrastructure from erosion or collapse —not to mention vast harms to the health of its residents. Represented by city Solicitor Andre M. Davis and backed by Mayor Catherine Pugh, the suit holds that these companies — including heavy-hitters such as ExxonMobil, Shell and Chevron— should help fund the enormous costs associated with planning for and mitigating climate-related risks. “These oil and gas companies knew for decades that their products would harm communities like ours, and we’re going to hold them accountable,” the Solicitor said in a statement. “Baltimore’s residents, workers, and businesses shouldn’t have to pay for the damage knowingly caused by these companies.”

  • July 2018 – Rhode Island

    Bordered by 400 miles of vulnerable shoreline, Rhode Island became the first state to file suit against a fleet of fossil fuel companies for current and impending consequences of climate change, ranging from severe storms and drought to considerable sea level rise and flooding along its coast. State Attorney General Peter Kilmartin called 21 oil and gas companies, including Chevron, BP, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, to answer for nearly half a century of unrestricted extraction and use of fossil fuel products that significantly impacted the state’s fishing and marine economies, infrastructures, ecosystems and public health. The industry, which completed extensive research on the risks associated with these activities, is charged with manufacturing doubt around climate change and failing to warn the public of known hazards that cost taxpayers vital resources and time. According to the Attorney General, “We have a fiduciary obligation to the citizens and taxpayers to hold big oil accountable for the damages they caused and, more importantly, we have a moral obligation to protect our natural resources, wildlife, our quality of life, and leave this Rhode Island a better place for future generations and put the planet before profits.”

  • May 2018 – King County, Washington (includes metro Seattle)

    Filed a lawsuit against BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch and ConocoPhillips seeking an order requiring the companies to fund the costs of climate adaption, including stormwater infrastructure upgrades, salmon recovery, public health protections and other expenses. The county is demanding the oil companies pay compensatory damages into an abatement fund to help cover the costs of protecting its residents and property, which attorneys for the county say could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars. “The science is undisputable: climate change is impacting our region today, and it will only cause greater havoc and hardships in the future,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “The companies that profited the most from fossil fuels should help bear the costs of managing these disasters. Big Oil spent many decades disregarding and dismissing what is our most pressing generational challenge. We must hold these companies accountable as we marshal our resources to protect and preserve what makes this region great.”

  • April 2018 – Boulder, CO and San Miquel County, CO

    In the first climate cost recovery led by landlocked communities, Boulder city and county, along with San Miguel county, Colorado, sued ExxonMobil and Suncor. Boulder county estimates its climate costs could exceed $150 million by 2050, and the plaintiffs, led by EarthRights International, laid out various ways higher temperatures are generating costs and threatening safety and way of life in the Intermountain West, including wildfires, drought and water availability. According to a press release accompanying the suit, “Climate change affects fragile high-altitude ecosystems and hits at the heart of these communities’ local economies, affecting roads and bridges, parks and forests, buildings, farming and agriculture, the ski industry, and public open space. Adapting to such a wide range of impacts requires local governments to undertake unprecedented levels of planning and spending.”

  • Jan 2018 – Richmond, CA

    Although home to a Chevron refinery, Richmond did not hesitate to name it and 28 other climate polluters in its lawsuit. In a press announcement accompanying the filing, Richmond mayor Tom Butt said, “The fossil fuel industry could have taken steps to transition to a lower carbon future, but they didn’t. Instead, they continue to spend billions fighting public policies intended to reduce greenhouse gases, even in some cases, while their own assets are endangered by rising seas.”

  • Jan 2018 – New York City

    The largest city in the country made waves when it announced its lawsuit against the “Big Five” — BP, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell. The city pointed to evidence that these climate polluters are responsible for 11 percent of all historic greenhouse gas emissions and argues that it is spending billions to protect its coastlines, infrastructure and citizens from global warming. At a press conference flanked by climate advocates and Sandy survivors, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “The city of New York is taking on these five giants because they are the central actors, they are the first ones responsible for this crisis and they should not get away with it anymore … It’s time that they are held accountable. It’s time that things change in the way we do business.”

  • Dec 2017 – Santa Cruz (county and city), California

    Alleging negligence and seeking potentially hundreds of millions in damages, Santa Cruz area officials filed suit against 29 climate polluters. In a departure from similar cases, the complaints add climate change- fueled wildfires as an additional risk. The complaint also estimates that the four-inch rise in sea levels projected by 2030 threatens $742 million in assets and 850 buildings in the county and $152 million in assets and 70 buildings in the city.

  • Sep 2017 – San Francisco and Oakland, California

    San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera did not mince words: “The bill has come due. It’s time for these companies to take responsibility.” City officials said they expect to pay $500 million to fortify the 3-mile seawall along the Embarcadero to prevent roads, home and businesses from being submerged. Long-term upgrades are projected to cost $5 billion. Reports show the city could pay as much as $350 million to safeguard the city’s sprawling sewer and storm-water system. All told, about $10 billion of public property and as much as $39 billion of private property are at risk.

  • Jul 2017 – Marin and San Mateo Counties and Imperial Beach, CA

    These lawsuits jumpstarted climate cost recovery suits in the U.S. Calling out 36 of the world’s largest oil companies, the three complaints point to impacts such as more frequent flooding, beach erosion and the possibility of water inundating roads, sewage treatment plants and other real estate — including the international airport. In an interview shortly after filing, Imperial City mayor Serge Dedina said, “About 30 percent of our city will be impacted by coastal flooding. In the future, we'll lose 90 percent of our Seacoast Drive. Two elementary schools would be impacted, and just the cost of moving a sewer line inland will cost us $10 million soon.”

The cases below are slightly different than cost recovery cases, as they preemptively seek to protect communities — many of which are low-income and communities of color — from future dangers created or amplified by climate change.

  • Jul 2017 – Conservation Law Foundation sues Shell over LF in Providence, RI

    CLF’s lawsuit alleges that the company has failed to take measures to protect its Providence Terminal—and in turn the Providence River and nearby communities—from the effects of climate change. In its complaint,  CLF argues that Shell is violating the conditions of its Clean Water Act permits by failing to prevent and monitor unlawful discharges of pollution into the river and by failing to adequately plan for increasing amounts of stormwater runoff caused by climate change. “It’s a longstanding requirement of the Clean Water Act that these facilities take the precautions they need to avoid a spill or unlawful discharge and they can’t turn a blind eye to climate conditions that are not only anticipated, but in many cases—like the increase in intense rains—already here,” said CLF president Bradley Campbell.

  • Sep 2016 – Conservation Law Foundation sues ExxonMobil over facilities in Everett, MA

    In what Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) describes as a “first-in- nation” lawsuit, the filing accuses ExxonMobil of endangering communities along the Mystic River in Massachusetts. The suit focuses on the company’s violation of the federal Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Given climate change impacts, CLF charges that even a category 1 storm could mean communities along the river are inundated with contaminants. “For more than three decades, ExxonMobil has devoted its resources to deceiving the public about climate science while using its knowledge about climate change to advance its business operations,” said CLF president Bradley Campbell. “Communities were put in danger and remain in danger, all to cut costs for one of the most profitable corporations in the world. It’s time to make Exxon answer for decades of false statements to the public and to regulators and ensure that its Everett facility meets its legal obligation to protect thousands of people and the Boston Harbor estuary from toxic water pollution.”