New Jersey takes Big Oil to court for climate lies
The Garden State is suing Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP and other oil giants for consumer fraud and the resulting climate damages to communities across the state.
Emily Sanders is the Center for Climate Integrity’s editorial lead. Catch up with her on Twitter here.
Ten years ago, Superstorm Sandy barreled into the east coast, becoming one of the most infamous and destructive hurricanes on record. The storm caused $30 billion in property damage and resulted in the deaths of 38 people in New Jersey alone — a harbinger of climate disasters to come.
Now, the Garden State is fighting back against the climate crisis’ biggest perpetrators. Today, New Jersey became the latest state to sue ExxonMobil and other Big Oil companies, seeking to make them pay for lying about the harm their products would cause to the climate — and for the innumerable costs residents have faced as a result.
N.J. Attorney General Matt Platkin announced the lawsuit this afternoon at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, whose terminal was submerged during the storm a decade prior. “Today, we begin to right the wrongs inflicted on our residents by companies who deliberately chose profits over our global environment and the wellbeing of our residents,” Platkin said.
Local officials in New Jersey have been advocating for statewide action against fossil fuel companies for years. Since 2020, 14 municipal governments have passed resolutions urging the state to take action to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for its role in the climate crisis. With today’s lawsuit, the state’s leaders have delivered.
Here’s what you need to know:
New Jersey is seeking to make ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, and the American Petroleum Institute pay for climate damages they knowingly caused.
The lawsuit cites violations of the state’s consumer protection laws, in addition to common law claims including negligence, trespass, and failure to warn, citing the companies’ early scientific knowledge of climate change and their subsequent campaigns to downplay and obfuscate what they knew.
“This successful climate deception campaign had the purpose and effect of inflating and sustaining the market for fossil fuels, which — in turn — drove up greenhouse gas emissions, accelerated global warming, and brought about devastating climate change impacts to the State of New Jersey and its Overburdened Communities — sometimes referred to as environmental justice communities — in particular,” the complaint reads.
The companies’ ongoing efforts to spread disinformation and greenwash their dirty fossil fuel businesses through advertising campaigns are also cited. “Even today they continue to mislead the public,” Platkin said.
New Jersey is seeking a jury trial in state court to recover a range of costs for damages to natural resources, critical infrastructure, and more. It’s also asking the court to order the Big Oil defendants to stop their deceptive practices and disgorge all profits made through their illegal behavior.
“We will work tirelessly to make sure these companies pay every last dollar for the harm they’ve caused,” Platkin said today. “If you lie to the public to protect your profits, we will hold you accountable.”
This latest case shows that the wave of climate accountability litigation continues to grow — despite Big Oil’s best efforts.
New Jersey is now the seventh state — and Platkin is the eighth attorney general — to take Big Oil companies to court for their climate deception. Nineteen municipal governments also have active lawsuits against the oil majors. That list includes Hoboken, New Jersey, which in August won a federal appeals court ruling that will allow the city’s case to proceed in state court. In total, five circuit courts and 11 federal district courts have rejected Big Oil’s arguments to escape trials in state court.
The Garden State’s lawsuit puts even more pressure on the Biden administration to stand with people over polluters.
As we explained last week, the Supreme Court has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to weigh in on fossil fuel companies’ increasingly desperate attempts to kick these lawsuits out of state court. The Biden administration still has yet to take action in support of communities suing Big Oil, despite Biden’s campaign pledge — more than two years ago — to do just that.
On Friday, SCOTUS received yet another petition from Big Oil — this time asking the high court to reverse an appeals court decision allowing Baltimore’s climate liability lawsuit to move forward in state court. In that filing, the oil majors cited the Justice Department’s still-standing Trump-era support for their arguments.
If the Justice Department is serious about holding polluters accountable, and supporting environmental justice, the clock is ticking.
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