New York City Loses Appeal Seeking to Hold Oil Firms Liable for Global Warming Effects
Ruling in favor of BP Plc, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions should be addressed under federal law and international treaties.
It rejected the city’s efforts to sue under state nuisance law for damages caused by the companies’ “admittedly legal” production and sale of fossil fuels, and said the city’s federal common law claims were displaced by the federal Clean Air Act.
“Global warming presents a uniquely international problem of national concern,” Circuit Judge Richard Sullivan wrote for a three-judge panel. “It is therefore not well-suited to the application of state law.”
Sullivan added that while the Clean Air Act did not address emissions from outside the country, foreign policy concerns and the risk of courts “stepping on the toes of the political branches” barred the city’s lawsuit.
Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s law department, said the city was disappointed it could not hold the oil companies “accountable for the environmental damage they knew their products would cause.”
The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Thursday’s decision upheld a July 2018 dismissal by U.S. District Judge John Keenan in Manhattan.
New York City’s lawsuit was an early effort among U.S. states and municipalities to turn to the judiciary and invoke state law to address climate change.
Since Keenan’s ruling, some have turned to state courts to make their cases.
The appeals court decision “confirms the wisdom of filing state common law lawsuits in state courts that are unlikely to be controlled by federal law,” said Robert Percival, a University of Maryland law professor.
In January, two New York City public pension funds voted to divest $4 billion in fossil fuel investments.
The case is City of New York v Chevron Corp. et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 18-2188.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Sebastien Malo in New York Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)