California Sues Oil and Gas Giants Over Climate Change Claims
OAKLAND, Calif. — California is suing five of the largest oil and gas companies in the world for allegedly engaging in a decadeslong campaign of deception related to climate change and doing nothing as the state endured the growing problems related to a warming planet.
The complaint was filed in San Francisco County Superior Court late Friday night by state Attorney General Rob Bonta.
In it, he asserts that although Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP have known since at least the 1960s that burning fossil fuels was warming the planet, they downplayed the adverse impacts in their public statements and marketing.
Bonta says California has spent tens of billions of dollars to help its residents and businesses adapt to climate change and to address the damages it has caused to date.
He also contends the state will need to spend many more billions to do the same in years to come.
He and California Gov. Gavin Newsom are seeking nuisance abatement through the creation of a fund to finance climate mitigation and adaptation efforts; injunctive relief preventing the companies from making any further false or misleading statements about the contribution of fossil fuel combustion to climate change; damages; and penalties.
“Oil and gas companies have privately known the truth for decades — that the burning of fossil fuels leads to climate change — but have fed us lies and mistruths to further their record-breaking profits at the expense of our environment. Enough is enough,” Bonta said in a written statement.
“With our lawsuit, California becomes the largest geographic area and the largest economy to take these giant oil companies to court,” he continued. “From extreme heat to drought and water shortages, the climate crisis they have caused is undeniable. It is time they pay to abate the harm they have caused.
“We will meet the moment and fight tirelessly on behalf of all Californians, in particular those who live in environmental justice communities,” he added.
Bonta said the complaint contains extensive evidence demonstrating that the defendants have long known about the catastrophic results caused by the use of fossil fuels.
For instance, in 1968, the American Petroleum Institute and its members received a report from the Stanford Research Institute, which it had hired to assess the state of research on environmental pollutants, including carbon dioxide.
The report stated: “Significant temperature changes are almost certain to occur by the year 2000, and … there seems to be no doubt that the potential damage to our environment could be severe.”
In 1978, the attorney general continued, an internal Exxon memo stated that “[p]resent thinking holds that man has a time window of five to 10 years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”
More recently, Bonta said, Shell CEO Wael Sawan told the BBC that cutting oil and gas production would be “dangerous and irresponsible.”
During the interview, which the BBC published on July 6, Sawan said, “The reality is, the energy system of today continues to desperately need oil and gas.
“Before we are able to let go of that, we need to make sure that we have developed the energy systems of the future — and we are not yet, collectively, moving at the pace [required for] that to happen,” Sawan said.
Bonta notes the CEO was making these public comments at the same time his company was claiming it had plans to be emissions free by 2050, and that it is continuously “tackling climate change.”
Under California law, a “nuisance” is “anything which is injurious to health,” and a “public nuisance” is “one which affects at the same time an entire community or neighborhood, or any considerable number of persons.”
The complaint alleges that all the defendants, by their deceptions, acts and omissions, have created, contributed to and assisted in creating harmful climate-related conditions throughout California.
California law also authorizes the attorney general to take legal action to protect the state’s natural resources “from pollution, impairment or destruction.”
In addition, California law prohibits untrue and misleading advertising in connection with the disposition of property or services.
“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,” Newsom said in a written 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. With this lawsuit, California is taking action to hold big polluters accountable and deliver the justice our people deserve,” he added.