U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Oil Companies’ Appeals

State courts to hear local climate-change lawsuits
Fuel station
Photograph: Shutterstock

Major oil companies’ efforts to move local climate-change lawsuits against them to federal courts hit a roadblock Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court said it wouldn’t hear the companies’ appeals.

Exxon Mobil Corp., Suncor Energy, Shell PLC and Chevron Corp. petitioned the Supreme Court, seeking to move to federal courts a handful of lawsuits pending in state courts over the companies’ potential liability for climate change, The Wall Street Journal and the Economist reported Tuesday.

The lawsuits the oil companies sought to appeal accuse them of harming the environment with greenhouse-gas emissions and failing to disclose the environmental risks to the public. The complaints want the oil companies to pay for the harms instead of the taxpayers.

Oil Companies' Reactions

But the oil companies said litigation isn’t the best means to address the issue of climate change and pointed to their corporate efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

“We will continue to fight these suits, which are a waste of time and resources and do nothing to address climate change. Today’s decision does not impact our intention to invest billions of dollars to lead the way in a thoughtful energy transition that takes the world to net zero carbon emissions,”Todd Spitler, senior advisor in Exxon Mobil Corp.’s corporate media relations department said in a statement.

Shell USA, which completed its acquisition of EV maker Volta Inc., also is working to reduce emissions, Anna Arata, a U.S. media relations spokesperson for Shell said in a statement Tuesday.

 “We agree that action is needed now on climate change, and we fully support the need for society to transition to a lower-carbon future. As we supply vital energy the world needs today, we continue to reduce our emissions and help customers reduce theirs. Addressing climate change requires a collaborative, society-wide approach. We do not believe the courtroom is the right venue to address climate change, but that smart policy from government and action from all sectors is the appropriate way to reach solutions and drive progress,” Shell USA said.

At least two dozen lawsuits against oil companies have been filed by state and local governments, including the state of Rhode Island and local governments in California, Colorado, Hawaii and Maryland, contending the oil companies should be held responsible for harms from climate change, according to media reports.

Boulder Case

Environmental groups have said the oil companies’ petitions to move the cases to other courts is a delaying tactic intended to postpone decisions unfavorable to them. The Colorado case the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to consider dates back to 2018, when the City of Boulder, Boulder County and San Miguel County sued Exxon and Suncor, demanding they, instead of taxpayers, pay for damages caused by climate change because the oil companies deceived consumers when they failed to provide information about the dangers of their products, Reuters said.

Another case affected by the Supreme Court’s refusal to consider the appeals is a Baltimore case accusing more than 20 oil companies of promoting fossil fuels without disclosing the effects on climate change, such as extreme weather, the Journal said. The oil companies attempted to move the case to federal court by arguing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act regulates greenhouse gas emissions, but the courts disagreed. In 2022, Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Roger Gregory, said in a court document climate change’s impacts have local, national and international ramifications “but those consequences do not necessarily confer jurisdiction upon federal courts carte blanche.”

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision  Monday not to hear the oil companies’ appeals, the state and local courts are expected to resume hearing the complaints.

'A Significant Victory'

In a statement about the Supreme Court’s decision Monday, Delta Merner, lead scientist at the Science Hub for Climate Litigation at the Union of Concerned Scientists, called it “a significant victory for climate justice and climate lawsuits filed across the United States and around the world.”

While the disputes haven’t been resolved, legal experts said state courts are more likely to reject the oil companies’ motions to dismiss the cases.

“While no amount of money can compensate for the damage climate change has wrought, a victory in this case could provide some measure of justice and demonstrate the power of litigation as a tool for climate action,” Merner said.

CSP’s requests for comment from Suncor weren’t immediately returned.

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