California on Saturday filed a sweeping lawsuit against some of the world’s largest oil and natural gas companies, blaming them for climate change-related destruction and demanding compensation.
The civil suit, filed in the state Superior Court in San Francisco, accuses the firms of covering up the environmental cost of fossil fuels and seeks the creation of a fund, supported by the companies, that would pay for recovery efforts after storms and wildfires, according to reporting by the Associated Press. Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and BP are named as plaintiffs.
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“For more than 50 years, Big Oil has been lying to us, covering up the fact that they’ve long known how dangerous the fossil fuels they produce are for our planet,” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) said in a statement. “California taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for billions of dollars in damages — wildfires wiping out entire communities, toxic smoke clogging our air, deadly heat waves, record-breaking droughts parching our wells.”
Some of the defendants responded to the lawsuit publicly, including Shell.
“Addressing climate change requires a collaborative, society-wide approach,” the company said in a statement provided to The Hill. “We do not believe the courtroom is the right venue to address climate change, but that smart policy from government and action from all sectors is the appropriate way to reach solutions and drive progress.”
The American Petroleum Institute, which is also named in the lawsuit, criticized the action as a political and calculated attack on the oil and natural gas sector.
“This ongoing, coordinated campaign to wage meritless, politicized lawsuits against a foundational American industry and its workers is nothing more than a distraction from important national conversations and an enormous waste of California taxpayer resources,” Ryan Meyers, the institute’s senior vice president, said in a statement.
The lawsuit alleges that oil and natural gas companies knew as early as the 1960s that burning fossil fuels could harm the environment but did nothing to alter their business practices and in the 1970s ramped up public relations efforts to discredit emergent concerns about global warming from the scientific community and the environmental movement.
State Attorney General Rob Bonta said the defendant companies “have fed us lies and mistruths to further their record-breaking profits at the expense of our environment. Enough is enough.”
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California is considered the birthplace of the United States’s environmental movement and is well known for its stringent regulations for manufacturers, energy companies, and even consumer products. It has sought to invest heavily in solar power and other forms of renewable energy. Newsom, among other state officials, has made environmental policy a banner issue for the state, which typically does not face destructive hurricanes but has been struck by disastrous wildfires. Strains on the state’s water supply are also chronic concerns, especially in Southern California around Los Angeles.
Newsom has sometimes needed to reverse course on his environmental goals when they outpace industry progress. He once led the charge to decommission the state’s last nuclear power plant but later argued for, and helped win, an extension that will keep the facility running until at least 2030.