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Washington county files lawsuit against oil and gas industry over climate change

Washington county files lawsuit against oil and gas industry over climate change

A Washington state county filed a lawsuit against the oil and gas industry Thursday for contributing to climate change.

King County's suit is targeting five fossil fuel companies — BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch and ConocoPhillips — "for knowingly contributing to climate disruptions and putting the residents of King County at greater risk of floods, landslides, ocean acidification, sea level rise, and other impacts," according to a county statement.

The county, which encompasses Seattle, aims to require those companies to establish an abatement fund to mitigate the effects of climate change on salmon recovery, public health, storm water management and infrastructure.

"The science is undisputable [sic]: climate change is impacting our region today, and it will only cause greater havoc and hardships in the future,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement.

“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.”

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The county adds its name to other districts in California, New York and Colorado that have filed similar lawsuits.

On May 24, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California will start hearings on whether a suit filed by San Francisco and Oakland should proceed to trial or be dismissed. A similar hearing will take place in New York City in June.

Environmentalist groups are cheering the latest suit. 

Richard Wiles, executive director for the Center for Climate Integrity, called it a "moment of reckoning."

"The fossil fuel industry is not above the law: oil and gas is a product just like lead, asbestos, and tobacco, where producers can be held liable for damages," he said in a statement.

But fossil fuel and manufacturing industries are criticizing the suits as baseless targeting.

"Lawsuits targeting manufacturers do nothing to address climate change, but will do plenty to line the pockets of plaintiffs’ attorneys — and in this case, the very same attorneys behind countless other public nuisance lawsuits throughout the country," said Lindsey de la Torre, executive director of the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project in a statement.

"As history has demonstrated, these lawsuits stand little chance in the courtroom."