Judge Tosses S.F.’s Climate Lawsuit Against Big Oil

San Francisco and Oakland sued five oil companies over global warming, but a U.S. District Court dismissed the cities’ attempt to recoup damages.

Facilities like that Chevron refinery in Richmond are indeed responsible for climate change and surging sea levels, but the companies that run these operations cannot be held liable for those effects. That’s the decision a U.S. District Court handed down Monday, as the Associated Press reports a judge ruled to dismiss San Francisco and Oakland’s lawsuit against five oil companies.

The two cities were seeking financial compensation from San Ramon-based Chevron, as well as BP, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell. They filed a September 2017 lawsuit against the Big Oil companies for “contributing to and/or maintaining a public nuisance,” but on Monday those oil companies succeeded in getting the lawsuit dismissed.

The full text of Judge William Alsup’s 16-page ruling does call those companies out as the “largest cumulative producers of fossil fuels worldwide” and “collectively responsible for over eleven percent of all carbon dioxide and methane pollution that has accumulated in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.” His ruling also “fully accepts the vast scientific consensus that the combustion of fossil fuels has materially increased atmospheric carbon dioxide level.”

But he felt it was inappropriate for one U.S. District Court to render a ruling that has larger national significance.

“The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case,” he writes. “There are sound reasons why regulation of the worldwide problem of global warming should be determined by our political branches, not by our judiciary.”

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office insisted the legal fight is not finished. “This is obviously not the ruling we wanted, but this doesn’t mean the case is over,” City Attorney spokesperson John Coté told E&E News. “Our belief remains that these companies are liable for the harm they’ve caused.”

Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker, for her part, told the publication that “we are carefully reviewing the order and considering all options, including an appeal.”

Several U.S. cities and states have filed similar lawsuits, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Florida. None of those cases have seen decisions yet.

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