Baltimore’s Climate Change Lawsuit Against Energy Companies Can Proceed, Supremes Say

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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The Supreme Court allowed the city of Baltimore to proceed with its climate change lawsuit against two dozen fossil fuel companies Tuesday, after the corporate defendants asked the justices to put the dispute on hold.

The oil and natural gas companies — among them BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell — are fighting to move Baltimore’s lawsuit out of a Maryland state court into a federal court. They wanted the justices to stop state court proceedings while they fight to remove the dispute to a federal forum.

“It is difficult to imagine claims that more clearly implicate substantial questions of federal law and require uniform disposition than the claims at issue here, which seek to transform the nation’s energy, environmental, national security, and foreign policies by punishing energy companies for lawfully supplying necessary oil and gas resources,” the corporations told the high court in legal filings.

“Respondent wants a Maryland state court to declare applicants’ historical energy production and promotional activities across the United States and abroad to be a public nuisance, thereby regulating interstate and international energy production in the name of global warming,” the application adds.

The lawsuit alleges that the fossil fuel companies have engaged in a “coordinated, multi-front effort” to conceal the harm of greenhouse gas emissions that attend the use of their products. The plaintiffs claim the energy industry has been investigating atmospheric carbon accumulation since at least 1958, and has long been aware of its environmental consequences.

“The fossil fuel industry was at the forefront of carbon dioxide research for much of the latter half of the 20th century,” the lawsuit reads. “They developed cutting edge and innovate technology and worked with many of the field’s top researchers to produce exceptionally sophisticated studies and models.”

“Despite the overwhelming information about the threats to people and the planet posed by continued unabated use of their fossil fuel products, defendants failed to act as they reasonably should have to mitigate or avoid those dire adverse impacts,” it adds.

The city is seeking a financial award for harm to city resources and punitive damages to deter the defendants from future wrongdoing. (RELATED: Companies Push Liberal Social Agenda At The Supreme Court)

Climate activists protest outside the New York State Supreme Court building on October 22, 2019. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

Climate activists protest outside the New York State Supreme Court building on October 22, 2019. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

After Baltimore lawyers filed their complaint in state court, the corporate defendants tried to move the case to federal court. U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander rejected that request. The companies are now fighting that decision in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has yet to produce a decision.

The defendants went to the Supreme Court because state proceedings are slated to continue while the 4th Circuit considers their bid to move the dispute into the federal system.

Those state proceedings will cause the defendants “to waste substantial time and resources on state court proceedings that will be rendered pointless” if the case ultimately winds up in federal court, the corporations said. The city countered that lost resources do not meet the high bar for “irreparable harm” required to stop the Maryland proceedings.

The court did not disclose a vote count or reasons for rejecting the request.

The case is No. 19A368 BP P.L.C. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore.

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