Judge tosses New York City's climate change lawsuit against major oil companies

US judge dismisses NY climate lawsuit against oil titans

Even though the NY and California lawsuits have been dropped, several cities are still continuing to try to fight climate change through nuisance suits.

In the last month, the cities of NY and Oakland, both represented by the able lawyers at Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, failed to persuade federal judges to allow them to proceed with nuisance claims blaming major oil companies for selling fossil fuel in the face of overwhelming evidence that oil and gas emissions are responsible for climate change.

U.S. District Judge John Keenan tossed out the suit against Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and ConocoPhillips, ruling that Congress and the executive branch, not courts, must tackle the issue of climate change, Bloomberg reported.

But on Thursday, John F. Keenan, U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of NY, granted the defendants' request to dismiss the complaint. To litigate such an action for injuries from foreign greenhouse gas emissions in federal court would severely infringe upon the foreign-policy decisions that are squarely within the purview of the political branches of the US government.

A spokesman for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told Courthouse News Service that the city intends to appeal.

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"Judge Keenan's decision reaffirms our view that climate change is a complex societal challenge that requires sound governmental policy and is not an issue for the courts", Shell said in a statement. "Accordingly, the court will exercise appropriate caution and decline to recognize such a cause of action". "But there is at least one other court that found the exact opposite, namely that state public nuisance claims are available".

However, environmental law experts said judges trying similar cases in state courts might rule differently. Judge Keenan said the framing didn't make a difference. "The court relied on bedrock Supreme Court precedent to reject these baseless claims". "It's time that fossil fuel companies pay their fair share". In January, the city first filed a lawsuit against the energy companies, arguing that they were liable for damages the city incurred as a result of global warming. "The benefits of fossil fuels are worldwide", Judge Alsup said in his ruling.

Although Keenan acknowledged in his Thursday ruling (pdf) that "climate science clearly demonstrates that the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of climate change", the judge ultimately concluded that the suit was not allowed under federal common law and the Clean Air Act, and that "the city's claims interfere with separation of powers and foreign policy".

Keenan said the lawsuit implicates countless foreign governments and their laws and policies.

Despite the legally unchallenged culpability of the oil companies, the judge said that New York City's grievances couldn't be addressed in the way the city wanted.

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