Five Oil Giants Sued by NYC for Contributions to Climate Change

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during his election night victory gathering, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

MANHATTAN (CN) – New York City filed a federal complaint Tuesday against oil giants, saying BP, Chevron and three others must pay hefty damages to account for their contributions to climate change.

In addition to BP and Chevron, the complaint in New York’s Southern District takes aim at ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell. Saying these companies put profits ahead of principles, the 67-page filing makes frequent comparisons between the fossil fuel industry of the 2000s and the tobacco industry of the 1990s, which employed “disinformation campaigns” to encourage use of its products.

“The very climate disruption and injuries that defendants’ scientists and consultants warned them about decades ago have now arrived,” the complaint states. “Climate change is here and is harming New York City. The temperature in the City is rapidly increasing, sea levels are rapidly rising, coastal storms are causing increased flooding, and extreme precipitation events are increasing throughout the Northeastern United States.”

Announcing the lawsuit in a press release Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city plans to divest its pension funds from fossil fuels within five years. City pensions hold about $5 billion today in securities of 190 fossil fuel companies.

“As climate change continues to worsen, it’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient,” said de Blasio in a statement.

Still rebounding from a historic cold snap that shook most of the Northeast earlier this month, New York City faces a grim weather-pattern future if climate change proceeds on its current trajectory, the 65-page complaint warns.

In addition to colder winters and hotter summers, the city says powerful storms are becoming more frequent, making intense floods more common, as sea levels rise.

Tuesday’s lawsuit comes more than five years after Hurricane Sandy caused at least 50 miles of flooding in New York, and the city says it has adopted a number of “resiliency actions” since then to prepare for future storms.

As part of a $20 billion resiliency program, for example, the city has begun construction on levees and seawalls, elevating streets, waterproofing infrastructure, and modifying sewers, among other fixes.

The complaint details other projects underway, such as the $760 million East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, construction of a 2.4-mile-long barrier along the East River, and a similar barrier along the southeast shore of Staten Island. For $100 million, Cool Neighborhoods NYC will help “keep City communities safe in extreme heat.” Representatives for the mayor’s office did not immediately respond to several questions about the lawsuit, including how they plan to pay for the resiliency programs if they do not win.

A representative for ConocoPhillips declined to comment on pending litigation, but Chevron spokesman Braden Reddall called de Blasio’s lawsuit “factually and legally meritless,” as well as incapable of addressing what he called “the serious issue of climate change.”

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue that requires global engagement,” Reddall said. “Should this litigation proceed, it will only serve special interests at the expense of broader policy, regulatory and economic priorities.”

ExxonMobil’s spokesman Scott Silvestri commented on similar lines.

“ExxonMobil welcomes any well-meaning and good faith attempt to address the risks of climate change. … Lawsuits of this kind — filed by trial attorneys against an industry that provides products we all rely upon to power the economy and enable our domestic life – simply do not do that,” he wrote.

Though Oakland and San Francisco have filed similar lawsuits in recent months, New York City says it is the first major U.S. pension plan to divest from fossil fuel reserve owners.

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