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Honolulu Files Lawsuit Against Fossil Fuel Companies

Casey Harlow / HPR
Honolulu Chief Resilience Officer Josh Stanbro (right) discusses the city's lawsuit against fossil fuel companies, Monday, March 9, 2020

Honolulu is the latest city in the country to file a lawsuit against oil companies for the effects of climate change. It joined more than a dozen U.S. cities, states and counties that have taken similar legal action against the fossil fuel industry.

City officials filed the complaint Monday in O?ahu's First Circuit Court. The city alleges oil corporations failed to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm that could result in using their products, and to adequately warn consumers of the known risks and the consequences of their use.

The city's chief resilience officer, Josh Stanbro, says fossil fuel companies should be held responsible for their role in changing the world's climate.

"For decades and decades, the fossil fuel coporations knew that the products that they were selling would have tremendous damaging economic problems for local governments, cities and counties," he said.

"Instead of disclosing that information, they covered up the information. They promoted science that wasn't sound, and in the process has sowed confusion with the public, with regulators, and with local governments, such as ourselves, around what the true damages of these products were."

Stanbro says the state and the city face billions of dollars in damage and mitigation efforts due to climate change.

"We believe that the folks who should pick up that tab are not local taxpayers," he said. "It should be those corporations that caused the problem in the first place."

Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil, Chevron, BP and Sunoco are among the companies named in the city's lawsuit.

In a released statement, the trade group Manufacturers Accountability Project criticized the lawsuit. Phil Goldberg, special counsel for MAP, said Hawaii residents need energy to power their homes and businesses, and the litigation does nothing to fight climate change.  The group added that "if Honolulu really wanted to do something about climate change it would work with manufacturers — as the overwhelming majority of communities have done — and not join this fringe litigation movement."

Last month, the Maui County Council approved Mayor Michael Victorino's request to also sue the fossil fuel industry for its role in the climate crisis.

You can see Honolulu's full complaint filed in First Circuit Court below.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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