Turning the Tables: Exxon May Sue California Cities Over Climate Change

Last year, a number of local governments in California filed suit against some of the world’s largest oil companies, claiming their reckless disregard for the environment has contributed to global warming and placed their towns at risk. Now, the companies -- armed to the teeth with money and attorneys -- are fighting back.

On Jan. 8, Exxon took the first step towards suing those who orchestrated climate change lawsuits in California by asking the Tarrant County District Court to allow it to question an assortment of government officials and a Hagens Berman lawyer. The company says those local officials are talking out of both sides of their mouths - blaming Exxon for an impending flooding disaster while not disclosing that alleged threat to possible investors in their bond offerings…

“It is reasonable to infer that the municipalities brought these lawsuits not because of a bona fide belief in any tortious conduct by the defendants or actual damage to their jurisdictions, but instead to coerce ExxonMobil and others operating in the Texas energy sector to adopt policies aligned with those favored by local politicians in California,” attorneys for the company wrote.

In doing so, they must have lied to potential investors in their respective bond offerings, the company claims.

Forbes has a roundup of some of the contradictions between the governments’ legal claims versus what they’ve been telling investors being highlighted by Exxon. For instance, San Mateo County claimed it faced a 93% chance of devastating flooding before 2050 as a result of climate change. Yet in its 2014 and 2016 bond offerings, the county say it “is unable to predict whether sea-level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm will occur." Oakland made similar contradictions.

“In 2014 and 2017, San Francisco circulated bond offerings for its Municipal Transportation Agency that do not even contain the words ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change,’” Exxon’s petition says.

“The word ‘flood’ appears only once in these bond offerings – to disclose the absence of ‘insurance policies covering earthquake, flood, environmental pollution or other, similar risks.’"

Exxon is now seeking to depose the follow people, according to Forbes: Hagens Berman attorney Matt Pawa who represents San Francisco and Oakland in their lawsuits; San Mateo County Counsel John Beiers; San Mateo County Manager John Maltbie; Imperial Beach City Attorney Jennifer Lyon; Imperial Beach City Manager Andy Hall; Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina; Marin County Counsel Brian Washington; Marin County Administrator Matthew Hymel; Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker; Oakland City Administrator Sabrina Landreth; San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera; Edward Reiskin, director of transportation of San Francisco’s MTA; Santa Cruz County Counsel Dana McRae; Carlos Palacios, assistant county administrative officer of Santa Cruz; Santa Cruz City Attorney Anthony Condotti; and Martin Bernal, city manager of Santa Cruz.