San Francisco, Oakland Blame Oil Giants for Rising Sea Levels

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Oakland and San Francisco sued five major oil companies on Tuesday, claiming they should cover the costs of sea walls and other projects needed to protect the cities from the consequences of climate change.

“These fossil fuel companies profited handsomely for decades while knowing they were putting the fate of our cities at risk,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement Wednesday.

The two public-nuisance lawsuits accuse BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell of organizing massive disinformation campaigns to deceive the public about the dangers fossil fuel production poses to the planet.

According to both suits, which were filed late Tuesday in Alameda County and San Francisco County Superior Courts, the companies have known about the perils of fossil fuel-driven climate change as far back as 1968 when a scientist working as a consultant for the American Petroleum Institute warned that carbon dioxide emissions were “almost certain” to cause an increase in temperatures and rise in sea levels.

“These companies knew fossil fuel-driven climate change was real, they knew it was caused by their products and they lied to cover up that knowledge to protect their astronomical profits,” Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker said in a statement Wednesday.

A state-commissioned report issued in April projects that over the next 83 years, sea levels will rise up to 10 feet along San Francisco’s coastline, where public and private properties worth billions of dollars are located just 6 feet above sea level.

Herrera says San Francisco is especially vulnerable because it is surrounded by water on three sides. A sea level rise of 36 inches could permanently flood the city’s iconic Ferry Building, the city attorney added.

San Francisco has already started the process of creating a long-term infrastructure plan to deal with rising sea levels, and the city wants to “ensure that those responsible for the problem are held to account,” Herrera said.

Oakland claims the “disastrous consequences” caused by the fossil fuel industry will disproportionately endanger the lives and properties of African Americans, Hispanics and other people of color who reside in the low-lying areas of West Oakland and East Oakland.

“Global warming-induced sea level rise already is causing flooding of low-lying areas of Oakland that border the San Francisco Bay, increased shoreline erosion, and salt water impacts to water treatment systems,” the city’s complaint states.

Oakland and San Francisco are asking the courts to hold the five companies jointly liable for the consequences of climate change and to make them cover the costs of infrastructure necessary to protect residents and properties from rising sea levels.

A Chevron spokesperson said via email, “Chevron welcomes serious attempts to address the issue of climate change, but these suits do not do that.  Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue that requires global engagement and action.  Should this litigation proceed, it will only serve special interests at the expense of broader policy, regulatory, and economic priorities.”

A Shell representative said, “The Shell Group has long recognized the climate challenge and the role of energy in enabling a decent quality of life. We strongly support the agreement in Paris to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius or less, but we believe 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.”

BP, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment Wednesday morning.

A peer-reviewed study published last month by two Harvard researchers found Exxon knowingly misled the public about climate change, based on a review of the company’s internal communications that found 80 percent of its internal research acknowledged climate change is real and man-made.

Exxon is also being investigated for fraud over climate change by the New York Attorney General’s Office, which won a legal victory earlier this month when a state appeals court ruled the company could not stop PricewaterhouseCoopers from turning over audit files to the state.

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