The city of Boulder in Colorado announced Tuesday plans to sue oil companies environmentalists believe are responsible for contributing to man-made global warming.
City officials will host a rally with a slew of anti-fossil fuel groups that are partnering with Boulder to sue. The Sierra Club and others are expected to be on hand to cheer on the effort to hold oil companies accountable for producing fuel many people burn during their everyday lives.
Boulder is joining New York City, San Francisco, Oakland, and other California cities, to ding ExxonMobil and Chevron for contributing to global warming that supposedly damages city infrastructure. There is one big difference between Boulder and the other coastal cities teeing off against energy providers.
Boulder is landlocked and has a different geography from the other existing plaintiffs, whose case depends on projections of future sea-level rise to estimate the damages they seek from the energy companies. Colorado’s elevation is more than a mile above sea level, which could ultimately hurt the city’s case.
California, for its part, faces a tough situation if the lawsuits miss their mark. Nearly 40 percent of the state’s crude oil is produced inside the Golden State — a reality that could slam officials if Exxon, Chevron and others being sued decide to pull out of California. The oil industry also contributes $66 billion of gross income for 2.7 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.
Exxon is also currently battling a pair of attorneys general who began suing the Texas-based company nearly two years ago, claiming the company spent decades hiding climate-change knowledge from public investors. New York AG Eric Schneiderman is the primary law enforcer involved in pursuing Exxon for allegedly hiding knowledge about climate change from the public.
Legal analysts are skeptical about the climate litigation.
“My guess is they know they’re going to lose those lawsuits,” New York University law professor Richard Epstein told Legal Newsline in February, referring to the cities involved in the litigation. “I certainly believe they will.” If San Francisco and Oakland decide to not back out the lawsuits and instead move forward, he added, “the cross examination is going to be brutal.”
He believes the lawsuit is based mostly on a desire to obtain publicity. San Francisco’s lawsuit suggested the city faces “imminent risk of catastrophic storm surge flooding” — yet a 2017 general-obligation bond offering claimed officials are “unable to predict whether sea-level or rise or other impacts of climate change… will occur.”
Other legal analysis concur. “[W]hat matters for the claimants is not really the legal judgments or the money sought. It is the publicity for what appears to be a co-ordinated and well-funded campaign, with the goal of casting a shadow over the companies’ future profitability and therefore their market value,” Nick Butler, the chair of the Kings Policy Institute at Kings College London, wrote in a January editorial for the Financial Times.
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