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Cases Against Oil Giants Over Climate Change 'Credible'

Daniel Hoherd / Flickr

Daniel Hoherd / Flickr

Several coastal communities in California are suing giant oil companies, contending they knowingly concealed the threat of climate change and sea level rise caused by fossil fuels.

Marin and San Mateo counties, along with the city of Imperial Beach, accuse 37 companies—such as Exxon, BP and Chevron—of concealing for decades that fossil fuels affect the climate and sea levels.

Some California legal experts say the cases face a few hurdles, starting with jurisdiction. Except for Chevron, most aren’t based in California, so suing them in the state is complicated.

Berkeley Law Professor Daniel Farber says companies will try to get the cases thrown out for lack of jurisdiction. But if they move forward, it could open up new claims.

“If the plaintiffs can just get to the point of discovery, that is the point where they’re entitled to get documents and to interview oil company officials, that is really a huge victory,” Farber said.

And lawyers may be betting they’ll get results. UC Davis Law Professor Richard Frank said it’s not frivolous.

“It is common for these kind of lawsuits to be brought on what's known as a contingent fee basis, where some or all attorneys fees are not paid until and unless they prevail in the case,” Frank said.

Farber said other coastal communities could bring similar cases not just around California, but in states like Massachusetts and New York as well.

“It’s going to be a big case," Farber said. "We’re not going to see the end of this anytime soon. It will definitely go to the California Supreme Court and if the defendants can find any basis for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, they’ll be sure to try that, too.”

Daniel Potter


Daniel Potter started out as an intern at Nashville Public Radio, where he worked as a general assignment reporter for six years, covering everything from tornadoes to the statehouse.   Read Full Bio 

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