Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Here’s Why the Bay Area Lost Its Lawsuit Against Big Oil

Chevron gas pump (Credit: Reuters / Joshua Lott) Click to Enlarge.
The judge who famously convened a climate tutorial threw out a case against Big Oil on Tuesday.  San Francisco and Oakland had sued BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell to help pay for the costs of building seawalls and other projects to adapt to climate change.

This decision dims hopes for those pursuing lawsuits against companies for damages tied to climate change.  At least nine other cities and counties have brought similar lawsuits, including New York City, Boulder, Colorado, and King County, Washington.

From the beginning, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup took an expansive approach.  He had each side fly in experts to give him a personal masterclass on climate change in his San Francisco courtroom.  During that tutorial, he seemed sympathetic to the argument that oil companies have done real harm.  You can glimpse that sympathy in his 16-page decision : “[T]his order accepts the science behind global warming.  So do both sides.  The dangers raised in the complaints are very real.”

So why throw out the lawsuit?

Well, Alsup sees a danger that worries him more than climate change — the danger of a single unelected judge deciding that countries around the world are better off without oil.

Alsup wrote that a ruling against Big Oil would trigger a cascade of other lawsuits, and eventually put petroleum producers out of business.  And this, he argued, would trample on the policies of countries that are actively encouraging oil production.  While the harms of fossil fuels are clear, so are the benefits, Alsup argued.  “Without those fuels, virtually all of our monumental progress would have been impossible,” he wrote.  “All of us have benefitted.”

San Francisco and Oakland’s lawsuit Alsup wrote, are effectively asking the court to “conduct and control energy policy on foreign soil.”  If any branch of government is going to do something as big as shutting down global oil production, Alsup reasons, it needs to be done by elected representatives, not one judge and jury making a decision for the entire world.

Read more at Here’s Why the Bay Area Lost Its Lawsuit Against Big Oil

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