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Big Oil Strikes Out At Supreme Court

  • The US Supreme Court ruled in favor of anti-oil groups by allowing climate change-related lawsuits to proceed at the state level.
  • The decision will force Big Oil companies to defend themselves in state courts where they are considered less likely to win.
  • Lawsuits in state courts can be treated under common law claims and may include public nuisance and consumer protection.
Supreme Court

Anti-oil groups won a victory on Monday after the Supreme Court ruled that lawsuits brought against the oil industry by municipalities should proceed at the state level.

The issue at stake was state courts versus federal courts, with Big Oil strongly in favor of federal courts where it has a better chance of winning. However, the Sureme Court turned away the industry’s appeals against five cases brought against it by cities and municipalities in five states and now these will proceed at the state level that the oil industry apparently dreads.

"Big Oil companies have been desperate to avoid trials in state courts, where they will be forced to defend their climate lies in front of juries, and today the Supreme Court declined to bail them out," Richard Wiles, president of environmental group Center for Climate Integrity, said as quoted by CNBC.

"The challenge of our time is developing technologies and public policies so that the world can produce and use energy in ways that are affordable for people and sustainable for the planet. It should not be figuring out how to creatively plead lawsuits that seek to monetize climate change and provide no solutions," said National Association of Manufacturers lawyer Phil Goldberg.

The association supports the hearing of cases against Big Oil in federal courts, with Goldberg noting that climate lawsuits should be heard at national or international level.

In a report on the news, Energy Intelligence noted that state courts are generally seen as more sympathetic to plaintiffs but that’s not all. At the state level, allegations about Big Oil’s role in climate change could be treated under common law claims including public nuisance and consumer protection. At the federal level, there are more limited options to seek climate accountability from the fossil fuel industry.

“Climate change is an issue of national and global magnitude that requires a coordinated federal policy response, not a disjointed patchwork of lawsuits in state courts across multiple states,” Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr. a lawyer with Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, told Energy Intelligence.

“These wasteful lawsuits in state courts will do nothing to advance global climate solutions, nothing to reduce emissions, and nothing to address climate-related impacts.”

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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