Big Oil Firms Just Notched Another Victory Against Cities Suing Over Their Role in Climate Change

July 20, 2018, 9:33 AM UTC

Back in January, the New York City administration announced two major actions in the fight against climate change: it wanted the city’s five pension funds to divest their fossil fuel investments, totalling around $5 billion, and it was suing five of the big fossil fuel firms to make them pay for their contribution to global warming.

The second part of that broadside just failed. On Thursday, a federal judge threw the city’s lawsuit out of court. So it was a good day for Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell.

Manhattan District Judge John Keenan accepted the oil firms’ argument that, under the federal Clean Air Act, only the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can sue companies over pollution. He said the problems caused by climate change “are not for the judiciary to ameliorate,” and “global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government.”

There is little chance of that happening under the current U.S. administration and Congress, which are dominated by skepticism over the realities of manmade climate change—something that Keenan said was “a fact of life” and that the defendants in the case did not dispute.

The EPA is currently run by Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist. His predecessor, the scandal-prone Scott Pruitt, was an outright climate change denier.

This is the second ruling of its sort in the last month. In late June, San Francisco District Judge William Alsup booted out lawsuits against the same five fossil fuel firms from the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, on similar grounds. “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,” Alsup said.

According to Reuters, the administration of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio intends to appeal the latest decision, as “the mayor believes big polluters must be held accountable for their contributions to climate change and the damage it will cause New York City.”