City Announces Plans To Sue Oil Companies For Climate Change Damage

Nov 5, 2019

The City and County of Honolulu is the second county to announce plans to sue fossil fuel companies for what officials say is damage caused by climate change and rising sea levels traced back to corporate action or inaction.

“The evidence is piling up that just as big tobacco misled the public and policymakers about the danger of smoking, big oil waged a decades-long deception campaign and covered up the origins of today’s climate crisis,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Tuesday.

The mayor pointed to the estimated 3,880 Oahu structures said to be in harm's way if the sea level rises by 3.2 feet as predicted by 2100. The higher oceans could result $12.9 billion in costs, according to a 2017 study from the Hawaiʻi Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission.

Last week, Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said his administration plans to sue the companies for climate change-related damage to roads and other infrastructure.

Both lawsuits will need approval from county councils.

Victorino has been feuding with Maui council members over issues like his insistence that the county argue rather than settle a wastewater lawsuit now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Caldwell had City Council members Joey Manahan and Ron Menor at a press conference announcing his intention to file a lawsuit against fossil fuel companies. Both supported the administration's plans.

Among the companies that would be named in the suit are Chevron, Shell, Exxon Mobil, BP, the BHP Group, Conoco Phillips, Marathon (formerly known as Tesoro) and Aloha Petroleum.

The suits follow research by the media and environmentalists that show fossil fuel companies contribute to the carbon emissions that scientists believe is changing the climate and causing sea levels to rise.

The Guardian reported Oct. 9 on its website that 20 companies, including those targeted by Honolulu, can be directly linked to a third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the modern age. Four of the 20 companies responses to the findings. The responses ranged from arguing they are not directly responsible for how consumers use their products to accepting climate science and supporting efforts under the Paris agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

Hawaii Public Radio reached out to some of the oil companies named in the suit, but did not recieve an immediate response.

However, Exxon's website has an article dedicated to responding to the the campaign #ExxonKnew, which alleged the company knew about climate change, but decieved the public and stakeholders by spreading misinformation.

"For the past several years, activist organizations have sought to bring investigations, shareholder action, legal action and protests against ExxonMobil," Exxon said in the article. "ExxonMobil is committed and actively working to reduce the risks posed by climate change."