A Blog by Jonathan Low


Oct 20, 2022

New Jersey Sues Gas Companies For Billions In Climate Change Damages

It is not clear that the suit will succeed, but it may further establish the responsibility of the oil and gas industry both for causing climate change and for fraudulently attempting to cover up that responsibility,both of which could eventually lead to legislation and/or additional lawsuits. JL

Ashley Belanger reports in ars technica:

New Jersey's Attorney General announced the state’s extreme weather damage caused by climate change should belong to oil and gas companies. These companies, “knowingly made false claims to deceive the public about the existence of climate change and the degree to which their fossil fuels products have been [exacerbating] global warming.” The lawsuit targets ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP ConocoPhillips and the American Petroleum Institute. It’s similar to lawsuits pending in Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont. The suit alleges these (companies) violated the Consumer Fraud Act.

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin announced he had surveyed the state’s extreme weather damage caused by climate change and decided that it shouldn’t be residents or even the state shouldering “the enormous costs of rebuilding.”

Filing a lawsuit in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Platkin—joined by the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs and the Department of Environmental Protection—suggested that this burden should belong to oil and gas companies. These companies, Platkin alleged in a press release, “knowingly made false claims to deceive the public about the existence of climate change and the degree to which their fossil fuels products have been [exacerbating] anthropogenic global warming.”

Platkin’s lawsuit targets five major global oil and gas companies—ExxonMobil Corp., Shell Oil Co., Chevron Corp., BP Plc, and ConocoPhillips—and the trade group that all those companies belong to, the American Petroleum Institute (API). It’s similar, Platkin said in his press release, to lawsuits still pending in other states, including Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont.

In his announcement, Platkin alleges that these fossil fuel industry stakeholders violated the Consumer Fraud Act, allegedly “by misrepresenting, suppressing, and omitting material facts about the adverse impacts of their products through a national climate-denialist campaign starting in the 1980s and continuing through today.” He also accuses the defendants of alleged negligence, impairment of the public trust, trespass, and public nuisance.

Similar to other states’ lawsuits

It’s not obvious how New Jersey’s and other pending lawsuits will play out, as America slowly moves toward ending reliance on fossil fuels, recently investing billions in an effort to install electric vehicles nationwide over the next five years. Bloomberg reported that the New Jersey lawsuit “is similar to efforts by more than a half-dozen other states,” a legal movement that began in 2018 with a New York case that ultimately lost. Before that, in 2016, Bloomberg noted that ExxonMobil lost a lawsuit attempting to claim that these legal actions from states against the fossil fuel industry are politically motivated.

Companies being sued seem to expect New Jersey’s lawsuit to end the same as New York’s. Chevron lawyer Theodore Boutrous Jr. told Bloomberg that New Jersey’s lawsuit is a “distraction from the serious problem of global climate change, not an attempt to find a real solution.” ExxonMobil spokesperson Casey Norton told Bloomberg, “Legal proceedings like this waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change.” Shell gave Bloomberg a statement saying, “We do not believe the courtroom is the right venue to address climate change, but that smart policy from government, supported by action from all business sectors, including ours, and from civil society, is the appropriate way to reach solutions and drive progress.”

Ars requested comments from all defendants, with no immediate response from ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, or ConocoPhillips. Shell and API repeated statements provided to Bloomberg. Both pointed to the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact—efforts that Platkin referred to as “greenwashing” that overstates companies’ “negligibly small investments in safer technologies.”

“The record of the past two decades demonstrates that the industry has achieved its goal of providing affordable, reliable American energy to US consumers while substantially reducing emissions and our environmental footprint,” API said in a statement. “Any suggestion to the contrary is false.”

“We agree that action is needed now on climate change, we fully support the need for society to transition to a lower-carbon future and we’re committed to playing our part by addressing our own emissions and helping customers to reduce theirs,” Shell said in a statement. “As the energy system evolves, so will our business, to provide the mix of products that our customers need and extend the economic and social benefits of energy access to everyone.”

Platkin is asking the New Jersey Superior Court to end what he sees as ongoing disinformation campaigns from the fossil fuel industry by “ordering the energy companies to stop deceiving New Jersey consumers about the destructive environmental impacts of fossil fuels.” He also wants gas companies and API to pay civil monetary penalties and damages, “including natural resource damages such as the loss of substantial wetlands" throughout the state. Otherwise, he says, “taxpayers will be saddled with billions in expenses to protect communities.

Platkin’s office and legal team did not follow up with Ars before deadline with any additional comments on what distinguishes New Jersey’s lawsuit from other states’ efforts. In his press release, Platkin suggested that New Jersey’s case is yet another opportunity to put more facts on the record, documenting alleged fossil fuel industry negligence. [Update: A spokesperson for the New Jersey Office of Attorney General told Ars, "New Jersey is among the most densely populated states to file such a case, in addition New Jersey’s unique land-use and geographical conditions, including extensive coastline, make this filing significant. The average sea level in New Jersey is increasing at almost twice the global rate, and as the most densely populated state, with many nondraining surfaces impervious to water, New Jersey is unusually vulnerable to flash floods. Our case also includes a claim for damage to natural resources held in trust by the State for its people, which is a cause of action that does not exist in many states."]

“Based on their own research, these companies understood decades ago that their products were causing climate change and would have devastating environmental impacts down the road,” Platkin said. “They went to great lengths to hide the truth and mislead the people of New Jersey, and the world. In short, these companies put their profits ahead of our safety. It’s long overdue that the facts be aired in a New Jersey court, and the perpetrators of the disinformation campaign pay for the harms they’ve caused.”


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