California Initiates Legal Proceedings Against Major Oil Corporations, Accusing Them of Misleading the Public on Climate Issues and Demanding Reparation for Disaster Damages

by Lucas Garcia
California oil company lawsuit

California has instituted a legal case against some of the most prominent corporations in the oil and gas sector, alleging that they have misled the populace about the hazards associated with fossil fuels, which are now being implicated in climate-induced storms and wildfires leading to billions of dollars in damages, according to official statements released on Saturday.

The civil litigation, submitted in the state Superior Court of San Francisco, also calls for the establishment of a monetary fund, to be underwritten by the accused companies, intended to cover the costs of recovery operations in the wake of catastrophic storms and fires. Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, stated that the corporations identified in the lawsuit—Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and BP—must be held responsible for their actions.

“Big Oil has perpetuated a falsehood for over half a century, obscuring their long-established awareness of the peril that their fossil fuel products pose to the environment,” said Newsom. “Californian taxpayers should not bear the financial burden for the extensive damages, such as communities being obliterated by wildfires, air quality deteriorating due to hazardous smoke, fatal heatwaves, and unprecedented droughts draining our water resources.”

Ryan Meyers, Senior Vice President of the American Petroleum Institute—an industry association also named in the suit—countered that the subject of climate policy should be a matter for Congressional debate rather than a courtroom topic.

“This sustained, orchestrated effort to launch baseless, politicized legal actions against an essential American sector and its employees diverts attention from meaningful national dialogue and consumes considerable taxpayer resources in California,” Meyers stated.

Shell echoed this sentiment, asserting that legal forums are not the appropriate setting for resolving issues pertaining to global climate change. “Addressing climate change mandates a cooperative approach that encompasses all segments of society,” the energy conglomerate stated. “Immediate action is indeed requisite for combating climate change, and we are in full agreement that society must transition toward a reduced-carbon future.”

This legal move by California aligns with an increasing number of similar actions undertaken by other states and local governments. “California’s litigation enhances the accelerating effort to hold Big Oil accountable for years of deceit, and to guarantee justice for those afflicted by climate-related disasters, including the gradual phenomena like rising sea levels,” stated Kathy Mulvey of the Union of Concerned Scientists via email.

The exhaustive 135-page complaint posits that these companies have been aware since at least the 1960s that fossil fuel combustion would result in global warming and climate alterations. Despite this, they minimized the impending danger in their public communication strategies and promotional campaigns. The complaint further alleges that the companies initiated a disinformation operation as early as the 1970s to undermine the mounting scientific consensus on climate change and disputed its associated risks.

State Attorney General Rob Bonta emphasized in a statement that these companies “have systematically disseminated falsehoods to augment their historic profit margins at the environment’s expense. This cannot continue.”

Richard Wiles, President of the Center for Climate Integrity, affirmed that “California’s resolution to litigate against major oil producers signifies a pivotal moment in the burgeoning legal struggle to make principal polluters accountable for decades of misinformation regarding climate change. Californians have been enduring a climate crisis induced by the fossil fuel industry, and the state is now acting decisively to compel those responsible to make amends.”

Despite being a forerunner in environmental policy and aims to reduce carbon emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, California has not always been in complete accord with environmental advocates. The state has had a fraught relationship with such activists over matters like aging water infrastructure, new permits for oil and gas wells, and water management strategies which could jeopardize endangered fish species.

Governor Newsom had previously been a vocal advocate for closing the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, the state’s last operational plant of its kind, but reversed his stance last year. This led to censure from key environmental organizations that had been campaigning for its closure.

Report contributed by Adam Beam in Sacramento for Big Big News.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about California oil company lawsuit

What is the primary focus of California’s lawsuit against the oil companies?

The primary focus of the lawsuit is to hold major oil and gas corporations accountable for allegedly misleading the public about the climate risks associated with fossil fuels. The suit also claims that these companies are responsible for climate-induced storms and wildfires causing billions of dollars in damages.

Who are the companies named in the lawsuit?

The companies named in the lawsuit are Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and BP. The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, is also named in the lawsuit.

What is the purpose of the fund that the lawsuit seeks to create?

The lawsuit aims to establish a fund that will be financed by the accused companies. This fund is intended to cover the costs of recovery operations following catastrophic events such as storms and wildfires attributed to climate change.

What is Governor Gavin Newsom’s stance on the issue?

Governor Gavin Newsom strongly supports holding these companies accountable for their alleged misleading practices. He argues that California taxpayers should not be the ones to bear the financial burden of climate-induced damages that he claims were knowingly perpetuated by these companies.

What is the response from the American Petroleum Institute and Shell?

The American Petroleum Institute argues that the matter of climate policy should be debated in Congress and not in the courtroom. Shell also asserts that legal forums are not the appropriate setting for resolving issues related to global climate change. Both entities suggest that the lawsuit is a distraction from meaningful discussions on climate policy.

How does this lawsuit align with similar actions by other states and local governments?

California’s lawsuit is part of a growing trend of legal actions taken by states and local governments aimed at holding oil and gas companies accountable for alleged climate misinformation and related damages. It adds momentum to the effort to secure justice for communities suffering from climate-related disasters.

What are the allegations included in the 135-page complaint?

The complaint alleges that the named companies have known since at least the 1960s that burning fossil fuels would cause global warming and climate change. Despite this knowledge, the companies are accused of initiating disinformation campaigns to discredit the scientific consensus on climate change and downplay its risks.

Has California always been aligned with environmental advocacy?

While California is considered a leader in environmental policy, the state has not always been in complete accord with environmental advocates. There have been tensions over issues like water management strategies, new permits for oil and gas wells, and even the closure of nuclear power plants.

What are the state’s plans for addressing climate change?

California aims to reduce carbon emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. The state has also banned the sale of most new gas-powered cars by 2035 and is encouraging the expansion of clean energy sources like solar power.

What is the significance of this lawsuit in the broader context of climate litigation?

The lawsuit signifies a pivotal moment in the rapidly expanding legal struggle to hold major polluters accountable for climate misinformation and damages. It also stands as an example for other states and local governments considering similar legal actions.

More about California oil company lawsuit

  • California Official Press Release on Lawsuit
  • Exxon Mobil’s Corporate Response to Lawsuit
  • Shell’s Statement on California Lawsuit
  • American Petroleum Institute’s Views on Climate Policy Litigation
  • Union of Concerned Scientists on Holding Big Oil Accountable
  • Center for Climate Integrity on Climate Lawsuits
  • California’s Carbon Emission Reduction Goals
  • Overview of Legal Actions Against Oil Companies by States and Municipalities

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JennyFields September 17, 2023 - 4:07 am

These lawsuits r becoming more common, its a trend now. Companies need to wake up and realize they can’t keep ignoring the climate crisis.

Dave_M September 17, 2023 - 9:51 am

Newsom’s taking a stand here, but let’s not forget California was a big oil producer too. Guess everyone’s got some skeletons in their closet huh?

Mike Jenson September 17, 2023 - 11:24 am

Wow, this is a big deal. California going after Big Oil, finally someone’s taking them to task for all the climate damage they’ve done.

TomJeff September 17, 2023 - 4:33 pm

curious how this will play out. if California wins, it could open the floodgates for more states to file similar suits. Big Oil better watch out.

LindaS September 17, 2023 - 8:43 pm

So they want a fund set up by the oil companies to pay for climate recovery? Good luck with that. but hey, if it works, it could set a precedent.

SarahQuinn September 17, 2023 - 8:45 pm

Its about time these companies got held accountable. Maybe now, they’ll start thinkin’ twice about how they do business.

ElaineK September 17, 2023 - 11:07 pm

I’m all for holding corporations accountable but im not convinced a lawsuit is gonna solve climate change. What we need is global action, not just lawsuits.

Ted_Roberts September 17, 2023 - 11:13 pm

look, I get climate change is a problem but lawsuits like this seem more like a publicity stunt for politicians. Are we sure this is the best way to address the issue?

RickN September 18, 2023 - 12:02 am

Isn’t the court really the right place to settle this? I mean, if they did something wrong, let the law decide. Why’s everyone saying it should be debated in Congress?


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