(CN) — The state of California is the latest to take on some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, claiming in a Friday suit that decades of deliberate disinformation have exacerbated climate change and caused major environmental, public health and economic damage in the state.
In its 135-page suit, filed in state court in San Francisco, California says the companies caused harm in the state by promoting their products and downplaying the negative effects of greenhouse gases on the environment.
The suit, brought by Attorney General Rob Bonta on behalf of the people of California, names companies like Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP as defendants.
“Californians and their families, communities and small businesses should not have to bear all the costs of climate change alone; the companies that have polluted our air, choked our skies with smoke, wreaked havoc on our water cycle, and contaminated our lands must be made to mitigate the harms they have brought upon the state," the lawyers for California wrote. "This lawsuit seeks to hold those companies accountable for the lies they have told and the damage they have caused."
The state claims that gas and oil companies had full knowledge of what greenhouse gases generated by their products would do to the environment and intentionally suppressed the information, to the detriment of the environment and people. The suit charges the fossil fuel giants with nuisance, misleading advertisement, unfair business practice and product liability claims.
“Defendants’ campaign to obscure the science of climate change to protect and expand the use of fossil fuels greatly increased and continues to increase the injuries suffered by California and its residents," the state's lawyers wrote. "Had concerted action to reduce GHG emissions begun earlier, the subsequent impacts of climate change could have been avoided or mitigated."
The state noted the record droughts, heat waves, storms, wildfires and biodiversity loss that have plagued California since the fossil fuel giants’ campaigns of disinformation and says the companies downplayed climate change in favor of profits.
California also accuses the companies of “greenwashing” their operations, while continuing to contribute to climate change.
“Through recent advertising campaigns and public statements in California and/or intended to reach California, including but not limited to online advertisements and social media posts, Defendants falsely and misleadingly portray these products as 'green,' and the fossil fuel defendants portray themselves as climate-friendly energy companies that are deeply engaged in finding solutions to climate change,” lawyers wrote in the state's suit. “In reality, fossil fuel defendants continue to primarily invest in, develop, promote, and profit from fossil fuel products and heavily market those products to consumers, with full knowledge that those products will continue to exacerbate climate change harms.”
The state asks for a judgment to levy conditions on the fossil fuel companies to mitigate climate change effects, as well as civil penalties and compensatory funds for environmental damages.
With its suit, California joins New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia and Rhode Island — which have previously filed similar suits in their respective state courts — in the climate liability fight against the fossil fuel industry. Cities and counties in Colorado, Hawaii and Oregon have also filed similar suits.
Within California, several municipalities have already begun their own proceedings against fossil fuel companies. The counties of San Mateo, Marin and Santa Cruz; the cities of Richmond, Imperial Beach, Santa Cruz and Oakland; and the city and county of San Francisco have each separately pursued similar lawsuits.
Like California’s suit, the other state and municipal suits have been filed in state courts. Fossil fuel companies have pushed hard in each case for the issue to be transferred to federal courts. The Supreme Court declined in April to take on appeals from the oil and gas companies to remove the climate suits from state courts.
Neither the attorney general nor representatives for Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips or BP could be reached by press time.
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