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California Sues Oil Companies For Lying to the Public About Climate Change

California Sues Oil Companies For Lying to the Public About Climate Change
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California wants to hold oil companies accountable for a decades-long misinformation campaign.

The state of California is suing five big oil companies for their role in perpetuating climate change.

The lawsuit, filed Friday by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, alleges that the five big oil companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell — arranged a decades-long disinformation campaign to hide the link between fossil fuel production and climate change. The suit also names the trade group representing the companies, American Petroleum Institute.

The state claims that this intentional cover-up has been going on since the 1960s, and has delayed the public’s response to climate change, which has in turn exacerbated extreme natural disasters and incurred tens of billions of dollars in recovery costs.

The complaint is demanding remedies based on seven claims including that the five companies and API put out false advertising and destroyed natural resources.

“Their deception caused a delayed societal response to global warming,” the lawsuit claims. “And their misconduct has resulted in tremendous costs to people, property, and natural resources, which continue to unfold each day.”

The state is seeking an abatement fund that would be used to supplement recovery efforts for future damages caused by climate change. They are also asking that oil companies and their trade group pay for part of the damages from extreme weather disasters that have already occurred.

The rich and their pollution

The lawsuit is the latest in a batch of climate litigation against oil companies nationwide, but marks the biggest economy to challenge the industry so far. Due to the number and magnitude of extreme weather events that occur within California, the companies could face a much larger price tag in damages if they were to lose than they might in smaller state

“California getting involved is a big signal to other jurisdictions around the country that they think this is a winning case,” Korey Silverman-Roati, senior fellow at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told CNBC. “That could in turn motivate more people, more states, more cities, more counties to file.”

The California lawsuit mirrors the legal model of past litigation against opioid and tobacco companies that also cited the false advertising that their products were safe. In 2019, California counties and cities settled a $300 million case against lead paint makers to fund an abatement fund to address dangers related to lead paint.
“There’s a precedent for these major tort movements against industries marketing their products as safe when in fact they were harmful,” Silverman-Roati continued. “State courts have a history of being able to adjudicate whether company actions to obfuscate the dangerous-ness of their products are in fact illegal. So we will see that play out in this legal fight.”

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Kylie Werner