The city of New York wants to lay the realities of climate change at the feet of the energy companies the city says are responsible.
In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York this week, counsel for the city allege that Exxon Mobil Corp., BP, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Co. and Shell produced, marketed and sold “massive quantities” of fossil fuels, despite knowing “for decades” the impact their use would have on the environment.
That there is a social shared responsibility for climate changing behavior “is a myth,” the city claims. The companies—the five largest in the world as measured by cumulative carbon and methane pollution, according to the city—are responsible for 11 percent of all fossil fuel-related emissions since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Their industry-leading “public relations strategy … downplaying the risks of climate change and promoting fossil fuel use despite the risks” makes them further liable, according to the city.
“New York City is standing up for future generations by becoming the first major city to divest our pension funds from fossil fuels,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “At the same time, we’re bringing the fight against climate change straight to the fossil fuel companies that knew about its effects and intentionally misled the public to protect their profits. As climate change continues to worsen, it’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient.”
The impact, according to the suit, is already being felt by the city, according to the complaint. Storm inundation, erosion and regular tidal flooding attributed to man-made climate change represent “imminent threats” to the city, and the “health and safety of its residents.”
“The very climate disruption and injuries that defendants’ scientists and consultants warned them about decades ago have now arrived,” the city contends in its complaint. “Climate change is here and is harming New York City.”
The city is seeking compensatory damages for costs already incurred by the city to mitigate against the impact of climate change, as well as an equitable order ascertaining the damages and an injunction to “the public nuisance and trespass that would not be effective unless defendants fail to pay the court-determined damages for the past and permanent injuries inflicted.”
In an emailed statement, Chevron spokesman Braden Reddall called the city’s action a “factually and legally meritless” lawsuit that “will do nothing to address the serious issue of climate change.”
“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue that requires global engagement,” he said. “Should this litigation proceed, it will only serve special interests at the expense of broader policy, regulatory and economic priorities.”
A ConocoPhillips spokesman declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Spokespeople for the remaining companies names in the suit could not be reached for comment.