In another legal win for Big Oil, a New York City lawsuit seeking to hold five of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies financially accountable for the climate impacts to the city has been thrown out.
In his decision issued on Thursday, United States District Judge John F. Keenan agreed that “climate science clearly demonstrates that the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of climate change.” However, he ultimately granted the companies’ motion to dismiss the case, saying that tackling the issue is not suited to the courtroom.
The ruling comes less than a month after a judge in California dismissed two similar climate lawsuits from San Francisco and Oakland for the same reason. In both instances, the judges said that climate policies must be set by Congress or the executive branch and not legislated in the courtroom.
“Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government,” Judge Keenan wrote in his decision, leaving the challenge of tackling climate change and its impacts to the Trump administration — which is known for its climate science denial and intent to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.
New York City’s lawsuit was launched in January against ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Dutch Shell. It is part of a growing wave of climate litigation launched by a number of cities, most recently in Boulder, Colorado, as well as by the state of Rhode Island.
New York City’s lawsuit, announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio, argued that the companies continue to “double down on the production of massive amounts of oil and natural gas, and encourage consumers to use unlimited amounts of fossil fuel products, despite having known for decades that this conduct was substantially certain to cause grave harm, including by putting coastal cities like New York City on the front lines of climate disaster.”
Devastating impacts were felt, for instance, when Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012. The storm killed dozens of people, caused $19 billion in damages, and flooded some 90,000 buildings. And recent studies show that as climate change makes storms more intense, many New Yorkers can expect to see more Sandy-like flooding and sea level rise.
In May, however, the oil companies — many of which have known for decades the impact of burning fossil fuels — filed a memorandum of law calling for the climate liability lawsuit to be dropped. Among the arguments offered were the city’s dependence on fossil fuels and the fact that because the Clean Air Act governs climate pollution, the courts should not intervene.
In his July 19 decision, Judge Keenan also acknowledged the international effort to tackle climate change and President Donald Trump’s announcement last year to withdraw from the Paris agreement.
“The Court recognizes that the City, and many other governmental entities around the United States and in other nations, will be forced to grapple with the harmful impacts of climate change in the coming decades,” Keenan wrote. “However, the immense and complicated problem of global warming requires a comprehensive solution that weighs the global benefits of fossil fuel use with the gravity of the impending harms.”
He continued: “To litigate such an action for injuries from foreign greenhouse gas emissions in federal court would severely infringe upon the foreign-policy decisions that are squarely within the purview of the political branches of the U.S. Government.”