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Exxon, BP, Chevron should pay for climate costs, New York says

January 10, 2018 05:05 pm

New York joined other municipalities hoping to use the law to hold oil and gas producers responsible for costs related to the environmental effects of their products.

The biggest city in the U.S. said Wednesday that it's suing BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell claiming they're the world's largest industrial contributors to climate change. Several California municipalities -- San Francisco, Oakland, San Mateo, Imperial Beach and Marin -- previously filed suits against the oil industry over the environmental impact of fossil fuels.

"Defendants are collectively responsible, through their production, marketing and sale of fossil fuels, for over 11 percent of all the carbon and methane pollution from industrial sources that has accumulated in the atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution," lawyers for the city said in a complaint filed in Manhattan late Tuesday.

"Defendants are also responsible for leading the public relations strategy for the entire fossil fuel industry, downplaying the risks of climate change and promoting fossil fuel use despite the risks," they said.

The city hopes to build on legal efforts against producers of asbestos products, cigarettes and lead paint in what would be an extension of legal responsibility.

"This lawsuit is based on the claim that a corporation that makes a product causing severe harm when used exactly as intended should shoulder the costs of abating that harm," the city said in the complaint.

Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell, said by email: "We believe climate change is a complex societal challenge that should be addressed through sound government policy and cultural change to drive low-carbon choices for businesses and consumers, not by the courts."

The National Association of Manufacturers also weighed in. "Mayor de Blasio is just the latest mayor to lead his city into misguided litigation against America's energy manufacturers," said Linda Kelly, the group's general counsel. "This is part of a deep-rooted, politically motivated campaign to undermine manufacturing in America, and we will continue our work to expose this coordinated effort."

Representatives for BP, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also joined Scott Stringer, the comptroller, in announcing Wednesday that the city's five pension funds, which control about $189 billion in assets, intend to divest about $5 billion from more than 190 "fossil fuel reserve owners" within the next five years.

"It's complex, it will take time, and there are going to be many steps, but we're breaking new ground, and we are committed to forging a path forward while remaining laser-focused on our role as fiduciaries to the systems and beneficiaries we serve," Stringer said in a written statement.

The case against the oil companies is City of New York v. BP Plc, 18-cv-00182, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

 

--Bloomberg contributor: Henry Goldman