Rhode Island’s attorney general sued a dozen oil and natural gas companies and their affiliates Monday in state court, accusing them of causing climate change and not sufficiently mitigating its effects.
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin (D) said Rhode Island is uniquely harmed by global warming, with its more than 400 miles of shoreline, fishing industry, marine economy and other factors.
“Rhode Island is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate changes that is now on our doorstep with sea level rise and an increase in severe weather patterns, as seen by the extensive damage caused by storms in the past several years, including Super Storm Sandy and the floods of 2010,” Kilmartin said in a statement.
“The defendants' actions for the past several decades are already having and will continue to have a significant and detrimental impact on our infrastructure, economy, public health, and our eco-systems, and will force the state to divert already-limited resources to mitigate the effects of climate change, thereby diminishing resources for other vital programs and services.”
The defendants in the lawsuit include big companies across the petroleum supply chain, including Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., Marathon Oil Corp. and Hess Corp.
Kilmartin’s lawsuit is the first time that a state has sued fossil fuel companies to hold them responsible for the effects of climate change.
The litigation strategy has become popular in recent years among some cities and counties, particularly ones frustrated that Congress and the Trump administration have not taken an aggressive stand to fight global warming.
But in the first major instance of such cases to be decided, a federal judge rejected lawsuits by San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., last month. The court said the scientific conclusions regarding climate change are sound, but it’s not the role of the courts to solve the issue.
The National Association of Manufacturers said the Rhode Island case should reach a similar fate.
“It’s time for politicians and trial lawyers to put an end to this frivolous litigation,” said Lindsey de la Torre, executive director of the group’s Manufacturers’ Accountability Project.
“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.”