By: David Yates
From the east coast to the west, local governments seeking billions in damages have filed suit against big oil companies, alleging the fossil fuel industry was aware of their role in triggering climate change but opted to place profits above the environment.
New York City, for example, recently announced it was suing Chevron, ExxonMobil and others for damages caused by Hurricane Sandy.
In California, more than half-a-dozen cities and counties are attempting to hold big oil responsible for rising sea levels and potential flooding, with the city of Richmond, home to a major Chevron oil refinery, becoming the latest municipality to point the finger at the energy sector.
However, not every town, county or state with an ocean view or refinery is looking to possibly drive away big oil with litigation.
In fact, Texas, which has seen more than its fair share of hurricanes and floods in recent years, welcomes the energy sector and especially the jobs those companies bring.
Ciara Matthews, deputy communications director for the Office of the Governor, says industries from across the country are expanding and relocating to Texas because of the state’s business-friendly tax and regulatory environment.
“The energy sector has long been a vital and central aspect of our booming economy,” Matthews told the Record. “Texas’ hands-off approach allows a diversity of industries to flourish in the Lone Star State.”
Since he was elected in 2014, Gov. Greg Abbott has actively recruited out-of-state companies and welcomed investments in energy development – a position that has “created thousands of jobs for hardworking Texans,” Matthews says.
When asked if Texas’ legal climate, in comparison to California’s, might be more hospitable toward the energy sector, Matthews said: “The governor will continue to promote policies that allow these businesses to thrive.”
No question Texas stands firmly in the court of the energy sector, but at least one oil company is fighting back by taking California government officials to court in Texas.
On Jan. 8, ExxonMobil filed a petition to perpetuate testimony in Tarrant County District Court, asserting officials are talking out of both sides of their mouths by trying to hold the company liable for future flooding disasters while not disclosing the unproven threat to investors in bond offerings.
ExxonMobil, who calls the municipalities “eager consumers of energy” in its petition, believes the testimony will lead to a claim for civil conspiracy.
As climate change lawsuits progress, the courts will ultimately determine the merits of the litigation.
However, there are some who believe the courts shouldn’t have been tasked to decide the issue in the first place and suspect the litigation may be driven by more than a concern for environmental impact.
Lee Parsley, general counsel for Texans for Lawsuit Reform, says public policy should be made in statehouses and not courthouses, telling the Record that we all “should be concerned any time the courts are weaponized by attorneys and politicians for their own gain.”
“For more than a century, the production, refining, exporting and use of oil and gas has been an important part of Texas’ economic strength,” Parsely said. “This litigation strategy is dubious at best, and sets a dangerous precedent for how we deal with issues of public policy as states and as a nation.”