With the lawsuit filed in San Francisco County Superior Court Friday, California became the largest economy to take such legal action against the fossil fuel industry.
Rob Bonta, California's Attorney General, is accusing oil giants BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and ConocoPhillips, as well as the American Petroleum Institute, of misleading the public about the risks associated with fossil fuels, causing extensive harm to the environment and communities while violating state laws, according to CNN.
The suit also reportedly alleges that, since these oil companies have been aware of the negative impacts of burning fossil fuels since the 1960s, they have willfully created a public nuisance, damaged natural resources and state property, and misled Californians through false advertising and deceptive environmental marketing. The state has suffered wildfires, poor air quality, deadly heatwaves, droughts, sea level rise, and substantial financial costs since, Bonta said in the press release about it. Gov. Gavin Newsom also said in a statement the companies named in the lawsuit should be held accountable.
The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief, damages, and penalties against the companies — specifically, it seeks creation of a fund, privately financed by the defendants, to pay for recovery and adaptation efforts following damaging storms and fires, per the AP.
This legal action aligns with increasing efforts worldwide to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their role in climate change and its consequences (the Guardian has a good roundup here, including the landmark youth-led lawsuit against the Montana state legislature claiming a constitutional right to a healthy environment, requiring the state to consider potential climate damage when approving projects, last month).
Oil companies have responded by emphasizing their efforts to reduce emissions and have criticized the lawsuit as a distraction from broader climate policy discussions, suggesting that Congress should address climate policy rather than the courts and generally denying culpability.
Photo: Robin Sommers