A while back, San Franciso and Oakland brought a lawsuit against the nation’s largest oil companies claiming that they were somehow responsible for climate change and should pay for all the infrastructure required to combat it. This was a popular measure on the left among the “keep it in the ground” crowd but didn’t look like a particularly productive use of their time. It turns out that the courts agreed and the Associated Press reports that a judge has now dismissed the suit, saying that the executive and legislative branches of the government are best able to deal with such questions. (Really? Has this judge ever watched Congress in action? But I digress.)
A U.S. judge who held a hearing about climate change that received widespread attention ruled Monday that Congress and the president were best suited to address the contribution of fossil fuels to global warming, throwing out lawsuits that sought to hold big oil companies liable for the Earth’s changing environment.
Noting that the world has also benefited significantly from oil and other fossil fuel, Judge William Alsup said questions about how to balance the “worldwide positives of the energy” against its role in global warming “demand the expertise of our environmental agencies, our diplomats, our Executive, and at least the Senate.”
“The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case,” he said.
While the judge clearly is siding with climate change activists in theory, he was quick to point out the massive overreach of the lawsuit, which he described in his judgment as “breathtaking.”
“The scope of plaintiffs’ theory is breathtaking. It would reach the sale of fossil fuels anywhere in the world, including all past and otherwise lawful sales, where the seller knew that the combustion of fossil fuels contributed to the phenomenon of global warming. While these actions are brought against the first, second, fourth, sixth and ninth largest producers of fossil fuels, anyone who supplied fossil fuels with knowledge of the problem would be liable.”
The two cities had brought suit against Chevron, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, BP and Royal Dutch Shell. The fact that the suit was tossed is something of a relief, even if the judge’s stated reasons seem to be an attempt to walk a fine line between social justice activism and the cold, hard realities of the law. Perhaps the government is in a position to do productive things when it comes to the environment and potential downstream effects on the climate. The EPA has, over the course of its history, certainly done solid work in reducing pollution levels and forcing the cleanup of toxic sites. That’s not what this suit was about, however.
The entire premise of the lawsuit was built on a foundation of sand to begin with. Let’s assume for a moment, just for the sake of argument, that we’ve somehow proven exactly what the climate is doing and what it will be doing a couple of centuries from now. Let’s go one step further and assume that the burning of fossil fuels is a significant driver of those changes. The actual emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are not caused by the oil companies who extract the raw materials from the ground and process them. The emissions come from the actual burning of the oil, gasoline and other refined products which they sell.
If there were better alternatives available or if people simply didn’t want to burn petroleum-based products, you wouldn’t have those emissions and Chevron would have gone out of business ages ago. If you want to bring a lawsuit against anyone, bring it against all the people who drive cars and the utility companies who used the fuel to create electricity. (Though only a fraction of our energy grid is powered by oil these days anyway.)
This was a blatant, politically motivated attempt by a couple of liberal hotbeds to stick it to the major oil companies and pick their pockets to the point of bankrupting them. Nice to see a judge dumping a bit of common sense on their heads.