Republican AGs Request Federal Court Dismiss California Climate Lawsuit

Published May 17, 2018

Led by Colorado Attorney General (AG) Cynthia Coffman (R), Republican attorneys general from 15 states filed a friend of the court brief in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California asking the presiding judge to dismiss Oakland and San Francisco’s climate liability lawsuits against five oil companies.

In the case, Oakland and San Francisco are suing oil companies claiming they sought to delay emissions regulations by discrediting climate change research. The cities claim oil companies should be held liable for the harms caused by climate change, including damage from rising seas, and the costs to cities responding to the changing climate.

The attorneys general’s brief asks presiding Judge William Alsup to dismiss the case. Joining Coffman in seeking dismissal of the case are the attorneys general from, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

‘Public Policy, Not Law’

The AG’s brief provides a number of reasons they argue Alsup should dismiss the cities’ lawsuit.

For instance, the AGs argue whether or not to address climate change is a matter best left to the legislative branch of government, not the judiciary.

“Plaintiffs’ objections to fossil fuel use are based in public policy, not law, and are thus not appropriate for judicial resolution,” the brief argues.

The AGs also say the cities’ claims could “jeopardize our national system of cooperative federalism,” by allowing certain cities or states dictate energy policies to the nation as a whole. This argument echoes Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s reasoning for re-evaluating California’ Clean Air Act waiver to set emissions standards tighter than federal limits.

“Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country,” Pruitt said in a statement earlier in April when announcing EPA was rescinding Obama era fuel economy standards and timetables.

Contra The Constitution

The brief also argues if the cities’ lawsuit is allowed to go forward and is successful it could open the cities themselves and states up to similar suits making them liable for billions of dollars in damages from class action lawsuits.

“[Cities are suing for] nothing more specific than promoting the use of fossil fuels,” the AGs write. “As utility owners, power plant operators, and generally significant users of fossil fuels (through facilities, vehicle fleets and highway construction, among other functions), States and their political subdivisions themselves may be future defendants in similar actions.”

The AGs also argue by demanding oil companies pay for sea walls and other climate mitigation and abatement programs, states are attempting to regulate interstate commerce – a function solely delegated to Congress in the U.S. Constitution.

“Imposing such financial consequences on business activity contravenes Congress’s exclusive power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce,” the brief says.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.