Annapolis sues Big Oil, and a U.S. Senator calls for DOJ action
Big things happening this week in the fight to hold Big Oil accountable.
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We’ve got an early morning double feature for you this Friday (and a much-needed dose of good news!)
During his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland, was questioned (pretty directly, we might add) about his plans to hold fossil fuel companies accountable. And later that same day, the city of Annapolis, Maryland, became the first state capital and the 25th community to file suit against oil and gas majors for their lies about the climate crisis and the damages they knowingly caused.
The momentum for climate accountability continues to build, and we’re here with the highlights. First up:
U.S. Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland has a mandate to hold Big Oil accountable.
Garland’s hearing took place as coronavirus fatalities in the United States toppled the half million mark; a pandemic that has battered many of the same communities that shoulder the most brutal costs of our ongoing climate crisis.
In his opening statement, Garland referenced these ties — and the Department of Justice’s duty to address the underlying systemic injustices that gave them rise: “Communities of color and other minorities… bear the brunt of the harm caused by pandemic, pollution, and climate change,” he said, noting that the “Justice Department protects Americans from environmental degradation and the abuse of market power, from fraud and corruption.”
When it was his turn for questions, U.S. Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut told Garland that he believed “nothing could be so important” as the Department of Justice taking action to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for “lying to the American public about the devastating effects of these products on climate change.”
Blumenthal pointed to President Biden’s commitments to supporting climate liability litigation and the growing number of state attorneys general across the country who have taken their own legal actions. “I hope you’ll take that into consideration in determining what the Department of Justice will do in those kinds of cases,” he said to Garland.
As a sitting judge, Garland said he does not want to weigh in on active litigation, but Blumenthal's question is another sign of the growing appetite for taking action against the industry. As we’ve explained previously, DOJ could support climate fraud and damages cases against Big Oil by filing amicus briefs on the side of communities seeking justice. It could also launch its own federal investigation into Big Oil’s continued climate disinformation campaigns — just as attorneys general in Connecticut, D.C., Delaware, Massachusetts and Minnesota did in their respective states before taking the industry to court.
We hope once Garland is confirmed, he’ll be ready to let Big Oil know that no one is above the law.
Annapolis is suing Big Oil for its climate fraud and the costly consequences for the city.
The costs of adaptation and resilience have already arrived in coastal Annapolis: the city is spending tens of millions to construct a major seawall, install water pumps, and upgrade its City Dock to protect residents, infrastructure and businesses in an area that now floods more than 50 times each year.
And that’s just a drop in the bucket: the city’s complaint also details the dangerous health impacts of extreme temperatures and severe weather events affecting Annapolis’s low-income families; coastal and baywater ecosystem disruptions that wreak havoc on both wildlife and the fishing economies of surrounding communities; and the city’s tenfold increase in flooding events over the past half century — more than any other city in the United States — which, along with supercharged storms, has damaged homes, properties and historic structures alike. The list goes on.
Without help, the city will inevitably be forced to weigh which essential services it can afford to keep, officials said this week. “The city didn’t cause these problems, but we’re left holding the bag,” said Jackie Guild, Annapolis’s Deputy City Manager for Resilience and Sustainability, at the city’s press conference on Tuesday. “[For] a city of this size that’s an enormous burden to handle.”
Like many of the other lawsuits filed against Big Oil, Annapolis’s case alleges both fraud and damages — meaning the 26 oil and gas companies listed are charged with lying to the public about their dangerous products and are asked to pay their fair share of the expenses now required to keep the city afloat.
“This lawsuit is about who will have to pay for the tens of millions of dollars the city of Annapolis and its residents have already incurred,” said Michael Lyles, the city’s attorney. “Will it be our taxpayers, or will it be the fossil fuel companies who knowingly caused the problem, deceived people about it, and put profit and corporate special interests over people?”
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