Led by Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, 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, William Alsup, to dismiss a climate liability lawsuit against five oil companies brought by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco.
Officials of the two cities are claiming oil companies have attempted to delay emissions regulations by discrediting climate change research. The city governments say the companies should be held liable for harms allegedly caused by climate change and the costs of cities’ responses to the changing climate.
Joining Hill in seeking dismissal of the case are the attorneys general of Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Constitutional, Liability Concerns
The AGs cite numerous reasons Alsup should dismiss the lawsuit, including that the cities are treading upon power specifically delegated to the U.S. Congress in the Constitution and that, if successful, the suits could make cities and states around the country vulnerable to similar claims.
The AGs say in demanding oil companies pay for sea walls and other climate mitigation and abatement programs, Oakland and San Francisco are attempting to regulate interstate commerce, a function assigned solely to Congress in the U.S. Constitution.
“Imposing such financial consequences on business activity contravenes Congress’ exclusive power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce,” the brief states.
In addition, the AGs’ brief says decisions on how to address climate change are the responsibility of 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 says.
The brief also argues if Alsup allows the cities’ lawsuit to proceed and the cities are successful, cities and states would be subject to class-action lawsuits for billions of dollars in damages.
“[Cities are suing companies 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.”
Climate Lawsuits ‘Farce’
By attacking legally operating oil companies, these lawsuits pose a threat to energy independence, says Tim Huelskamp, president of The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.
“The American economy runs on energy freedom and the rule of law,” said Huelskamp. “These lawsuits by the Left are nothing more than bald-faced attempts to shake down legitimate American businesses.
“The series of climate change lawsuits are a farce that has gone on long enough,” Huelskamp said. “We are encouraged by these Attorneys General who are standing up for free markets, common sense, sound science, and jobs in their states.”
‘Not for Cities to Decide’
Marc Rylander, director of communications for the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, says the lawsuits against oil companies are nothing more than mayors grandstanding for their political base while attempting to set national policy.
“This comes down to a handful of the most liberal mayors in California attempting to direct policy for the entire country,” Rylander told Environment & Climate News. “It’s disingenuous to claim that fossil fuels are a public nuisance when virtually everything in the cities would come to an abrupt halt without the fuel they provide.
“Balancing climate change and energy needs is a topic Congress tackled with the Clean Air Act, which established a model for the federal government to work with the states,” said Rylander. “This policy issue is not for cities to decide. Indeed, it is nothing more than a ploy for politically ambitious mayors to score cheap political points.”
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]s is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill et al., “State AGs’ Amicus Brief in Oakland/San Francisco Climate Lawsuit,” April 19, 2018: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/state-ags-amicus-brief-in-oaklandsan-francisco-climate-lawsuit