New York City Sues Oil Companies Over Climate Change
By: Corinne Ramey and Mara Gay
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday his administration had filed a lawsuit against five major oil companies and was pushing New York City pension funds to divest from fossil fuel, both part of an effort to fight climate change.
The pension fund divestment requires approval from the trustees of the city’s five major pension funds. Some funds may choose to implement the proposal while others may not. City officials plan to present a proposal to the funds on Thursday.
The $189 billion pension funds hold about $5 billion in securities from fossil-fuel companies, officials said.
The lawsuit, filed late Tuesday, asks for billions of dollars to protect the city from climate change. San Francisco and Oakland filed similar suits in September against the same five companies.
“In this litigation, the City seeks to shift the costs of protecting the City from climate change impacts back onto the companies that have done nearly all they could to create this existential threat,” said the complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
The complaint said that “the very climate disruption and injuries that Defendants’ scientists and consultants warned them about decades ago have now arrived.”
The city filed the suit against oil companies BP PLC, Chevron Corp. , ConocoPhillips , Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC.
A Shell spokesman said the company believes “climate change is a complex societal challenge that should be addressed through sound government policy and cultural change to drive low-carbon choices for businesses and consumers, not by the courts.”
A Chevron spokesman called the lawsuit “factually and legally meritless.” An Exxon Mobil spokesman said the company “welcomes any well-meaning and good faith attempt to address the risks of climate change,” but that lawsuits such as this one do not.
A ConocoPhillips spokesman said the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation. BP declined to comment.
A city has never successfully sued a fossil-fuel company for damages for climate change, said Michael Burger, executive director of Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. Still, under state law, courts haven’t yet prohibited such a suit, he said.
Even if cities aren’t successful in court, such suits could have other impacts. “It’s possible that these lawsuits will apply enough pressure to move industry off of its resistance to take significant measures to address climate change,” Mr. Burger said.
The measures proposed Wednesday come as Mr. de Blasio works to grow his national profile as a liberal Democrat. Last month, the mayor traveled to Iowa to deliver the keynote address at the holiday party of a liberal group, sparking speculation that he may be considering a bid for president in 2020. Mr. de Blasio has repeatedly said he isn’t running for president.