Baltimore Case against Big Oil to Proceed in State Court
Baltimore citizens seeking to hold Big Oil liable for the devastating consequences of its activities had cause to celebrate last week when an appeals court denied the industry’s bid to have the case moved to a more sympathetic federal court. The suit is one of several under way that target the “elaborate disinformation campaign” intended to suppress public knowledge about the climate-destroying impacts of fossil fuel burning.
“Initially filed in state court in July 2018, the suit seeks to hold 26 oil and gas companies liable for Baltimore’s costs stemming from climate change,” writes climate action watchdog Drilled News. “With over 60 miles of waterfront property,” the report adds, the city is “particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding.”
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Alert to a recent pattern in which “federal courts have dismissed recent cases brought by San Francisco and Oakland, as well as New York City,” fossil companies are fighting to move city and state lawsuits to the federal level, arguing that because the lawsuits are intended to target oil production itself, federal jurisdiction must apply.
Moving to deflect questions about his company’s well-documented climate denial campaign, Chevron counsel Theodore Boutrous Jr. asserted that climate liability lawsuits like Baltimore’s are about ending oil production rather than local impacts, and “fundamentally about global greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore invoke a host of federal issues,” Drilled News states. He also invoked the Ninth Circuit Court’s dismissal of the youth climate lawsuit Juliana v. United States to argue that such cases are the purview of the federal court.
Judges from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard Big Oil’s plea to bring the suit to Washington, roundly disagreed. They rejected the argument that they were required to review the arguments on appeal with a blunt retort: “They are wrong.”
Now, “Baltimore is ready to have its lawsuit tried by a jury,” the city’s acting solicitor Dana Moore said in a statement, “Not only did [the court] conclude that, under federal law and the court’s precedents, the fossil fuel companies were ‘wrong’ in claiming the court had to review all of its arguments on appeal, it also rejected all three of the oil and gas companies’ arguments claiming they are somehow officers of the federal government.”