A Rhode Island senator and eight state attorneys general are throwing their support behind a California lawsuit that challenges Chevron and dozens of other other fossil fuel companies for knowingly contributing to climate change.
Democratic Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats draw red lines in spending fight What Republicans should demand in exchange for raising the debt ceiling Climate hawks pressure Biden to replace Fed chair MORE along with the attorneys general from California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Rhode Island filed separate amicus briefs to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday.
The briefs support the state’s regional plaintiffs, who want to keep the suit against the companies in California.
“In light of the costly impacts that climate change is already having within our borders, and because the harmful effects of climate change are unlikely to stop in the near future, Amici States have a concrete interest in the ability of state courts to adjudicate climate change-related claims brought by our political subdivisions who are impacted by the conduct of fossil fuel producers and sellers,” the attorneys general wrote in their brief.
Chevron and the other fossil fuel producers were first hit with lawsuits in 2017 from the California counties of Marin, San Mateo and Santa Cruz, as well as the cities of Richmond, Santa Cruz and Imperial Beach. They all argued the world’s largest oil, gas and coal companies were responsible for paying damages stemming from climate change due to the their production and "simultaneous concealment " of the known hazards of their products.
Chevron and the others rejected the claims and argued that the suit should be moved to federal court.
In March, the federal district court for the Northern District of California ruled that the case should be remanded to the state.
The fossil fuel companies then appealed that decision.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in November filed a briefing in defense of Chevron’s position, arguing that climate change was “a national and international problem requiring a uniform, coordinated federal response.”
Whitehouse in his briefing argued that the Chamber’s actions are “not those of an organization in search of ‘thoughtful governmental policies that will have a meaningful impact on global climate change.’”
“They reflect a decades-long campaign of disinformation, obstruction, and political intimidation designed to prevent democratically accountable branches of government from adopting any policies that would reduce carbon pollution,” he wrote.
Whitehouse sits on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee and has long championed the implementation of carbon capture and a carbon tax.
In its original filing, the City of Imperial Beach wrote that Chevron's and other's “production, promotion, marketing, and use of fossil fuel products, simultaneous concealment of the known hazards of those products, and their championing of anti-regulation and anti-science campaigns, actually and proximately caused,” harm to their communities.
“As a low-income coastal community, we have no capacity to pay for the adaptation measures needed to protect ourselves from these impacts,” Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina said at the time. “It is unfair to force citizens, business owners and taxpayers to fend for ourselves when the source of the problem is so clear."
The lawsuit is one of many from local communities and states challenging the fossil fuel industry over its knowledge of the negative effects of greenhouse gas emissions.
As of January, nine cities and counties across the U.S. have sued major fossil fuel companies for compensation from climate change damages.
A federal judge last June threw out a similar lawsuit brought by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland He argued that the courts were not the proper place to sift through the global issue.
In 2015, 21 young people, with the assistance of climate activist and scientist James Hansen, filed a lawsuit in which they argued that the federal government is violating their rights to a clean environment by not combating climate change.
The Obama and Trump administrations repeatedly asked lower courts to halt the lawsuit in the following years but in November the Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration's request to halt the suit.