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The Supreme Court has ruled for a case brought against 20 oil companies by the city of Baltimore to be moved to a federal court, the Wall Street Journal reports, in a potentially big win for the defendants.
Baltimore sued the companies, which include Shell, BP, and Exxon, in 2018 for withholding information from the public about the risks their products carried. The city argued it had suffered damage from climate-change-related events caused by the companies' business, including rising sea levels and extreme weather.
The defendants, for their part, argued that it would be fairer for such a case to be heard by a federal court. Their request for the case to be moved was denied once by a federal trial judge and was then basically dropped by a federal appeals court, which cited its lack of powers to move the case.
This is how the suit reached the Supreme Court, which first heard arguments about it this January. Baltimore argued Big Oil should pay for the alleged damages, while Big Oil argued it should be tried at a federal court.
“This isn't something the energy companies created. This is a byproduct of modern society," an attorney for the National Association of Manufacturers, which filed a brief backing the defendants, said in January. "All the companies are doing is engaging in a lawful business endeavor. And what that is is selling us the energy we need to drive our cars, turn on our lights, heat and cool our homes. And doing that is not a liability-causing event."
One legal expert on climate liability cases, however, said, as quoted by the NPR that "They're basically fighting to keep this out [of] state court because they're desperate to keep the social license that they've cultivated with this disinformation campaign," she says of the fossil fuel industry. "It has never been held to account in this way in this country. It has wielded such economic and political might, it's never had to face a threat quite like this."
Now, the Supreme Court has returned the case to a federal appeals court, saying the decision that court was unable to hear the case was incorrect. The justices made no comment on the substance of the case.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.