Court Dismisses Cities’ Climate Change Lawsuits

A federal judge has dismissed a pair of lawsuits brought by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco against the nation’s largest energy companies. U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled Monday that the cities did not have standing to sue the oil companies for their role in climate change. The decision deals a serious blow to municipalities’ efforts to hold oil companies accountable for global warming.

Alsup said his ruling did not stem from a dispute over the science of climate change.

The issue is not over science. All parties agree that fossil fuels have led to global warming and ocean rise and will continue to do so, and that eventually the navigable waters of the United States will intrude upon Oakland and San Francisco. The issue is a legal one — whether these producers of fossil fuels should pay for anticipated harm that will eventually flow from a rise in sea level.

The judge said the scope of the plaintiffs’ case was simply too massive. If their arguments hold merit, he wrote, virtually every person involved in the selling of fossil fuels would be liable.

Additionally, when deciding whether the “public nuisance” is unreasonable, the court must weigh the enormous social utility of fossil fuels.

Without those fuels, virtually all of our monumental progress would have been impossible. All of us have benefitted. Having reaped the benefit of that historic progress, would it really be faire to now ignore our own responsibility in the use of fossil fuels and place the blame for global warming on those who supplied what we demanded? Is it really fair, in light of those benefits to say the sale of fossil fuels was unreasonable?

Alsup acknowledged there is a delicate balance between fossil fuels’ social utility and their potential harm. But that, he said, is a matter best left up to Congress, the president, and our environmental agencies.

The National Association of Manufacturers, which opposed the suit, hopes the ruling will serve as a warning shot for local governments pursuing similar legal challenges.

“Other municipalities around the country who have filed similar lawsuits should take note as those complaints are likely to end the same way,” warned NAM president Jay Timmons

The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office says it is still reviewing the decision. Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said her city is considering an appeal.

Read the ruling here.


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