Dana Drugmand is a freelance journalist specializing in climate change, clean energy, and citizen activism. She holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Law & Policy with a certificate in Climate Law from Vermont Law School.
In ‘Dutch vs. Shell’ Case, Fossil Fuel’s Future Is on Trial

In ‘Dutch vs. Shell’ Case, Fossil Fuel’s Future Is on Trial

Five years after nearly 200 nations adopted the Paris climate agreement, a coalition of seven Dutch environmental group and more than 17,000 co-plaintiffs are facing off in civil court at The Hague against Royal Dutch Shell for continuing to do business in ways that undermine the pact’s goal to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F).

If they win, the plaintiffs say, the decision will establish that Shell is responsible under both the Paris pact and human rights law to rapidly reorient its business away from oil and gas production.

The plaintiffs in the case, Milieudefensie v. Royal Dutch Shell, specifically claim that Shell — the largest oil corporation in Europe and among the top five largest in the world — has breached the “duty of care,” a principle enshrined in Dutch law, and violated Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protect the rights to life and to private and family life. They are seeking a court order compelling Shell to reduce its carbon emissions 45% by 2030 and completely by 2050, in alignment with the Paris accord.

“Success is Shell being forced by the court to accept binding CO2 targets reflecting the Paris climate agreement,” said Donald Pols, director of Milieudefensie/Friends of the Earth Netherlands, the environmental organization leading the case,

The case, which has been conducted over four hearings since Dec. 1, could also have reverberations throughout the fossil fuel industry.

“While it is taking place in the Netherlands under Dutch law, the implications go much wider,” said Sara Shaw, the coordinator of climate and energy campaigns at Friends of the Earth International. “Our hope is that this case sparks a wave of climate litigation globally that can hold other carbon majors to account and …

“What We’re Talking About Is Whether People Are Going to Live or Die.”

“What We’re Talking About Is Whether People Are Going to Live or Die.”

As the fossil fuel sector tries to reposition itself to endure well into the low-carbon era, a regulatory battle has begun between the petrochemical industry and a coalition of nearly a dozen environmental and frontline community groups.

The battle concerns new air pollution rules for massive industrial plants that transform methane gas into a resin used to make plastic. The outcome, which may play out in court, is a life and death matter for the communities involuntarily hosting these facilities, where often the majority of residents are Black and brown.

“What we’re talking about is whether people are going to live or die,” says Alex Bomstein, an attorney with the Pennsylvania-based group Clean Air Council. “People who haven’t volunteered to breathe in dirty air, people who haven’t said, ‘I want this polluting facility in my neighborhood,’ people who aren’t getting a dime from the industry.”

Clean Air Council is one of 10 environmental and community organizations challenging the federal government’s final air pollution rules for ethylene productionfacilities, also called ethane crackers. Ethane, a byproduct of methane gas fracking, is a key feedstock of ethylene, a base material for plastics. Producing ethylene is a heavy industrial process that results in emissions of highly dangerous pollutants including toluene, which can cause severe neurological damage, and benzene, a known carcinogen.

But regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency have determined that the human health risks from its new pollution standard for ethane crackers under the Clean Air Act, which was finalized in July this year, are “acceptable.”

The coalition of groups and communities fighting these facilities disagree. In Septemberthey petitioned a federal appeals court to review the rule, and have also filed an administrative petition asking EPA to reconsider certain aspects of the rule.

“It’s a matter of the impact it …

Federal Judge: Rhode Island’s Climate Fraud Lawsuit Against Big Oil Belongs in State Court

Federal Judge: Rhode Island’s Climate Fraud Lawsuit Against Big Oil Belongs in State Court

A federal judge has ruled that Rhode Island’s climate liability case against 21 oil and gas corporations belongs in state court, where the state originally filed it in 2018.

The Oct. 29 decision by the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals aligns with three other federal appeals court decisions this year in similar climate lawsuits against Big Oil.

Rhode Island is one of two dozen communities around the country suing the fossil fuel industry for its decades of deliberately misleading the public about the risks associated with burning coal, oil, and gas. Like the others, Rhode Island is seeking to hold the industry accountable for the billions of dollars in costs it now faces to contend with climate change impacts including higher temperatures, more extreme rainfall and flooding, and coastal erosion caused by rising seas. According to a 2017 state report, Narragansett Bay’s warming temperatures have already begun to cause a shift from cold-water to warm-water marine species, driving down populations of key fisheries like lobster and winter flounder.

Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, and other petroleum firms have fought to move climate lawsuits by states and municipalities to federal courts, where they believe they have a better chance of fending them off. In early October the Supreme Court granted the industry’s petition to review a wonky procedural question in a climate lawsuit brought by the city of Baltimore, regarding how broadly the firms can make their arguments for shifting these cases to federal court.

That question was also among those at play in the Rhode Island case, where federal Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson ruled that the correct scope of such review was a narrow one: whether there was merit in the companies’ argument that their contracts with the federal government to extract oil and gas on federal lands rendered them …

Hawaii’s Maui County Takes Big Oil to Court Over Climate Crisis

Hawaii’s Maui County Takes Big Oil to Court Over Climate Crisis

Hawaii’s Maui County filed a liability claim against 20 fossil fuel firms on Monday, joining 23 other U.S. communities suing to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for their role in delaying action on climate change. Maui is the third community in Hawaii to file such a suit.

The county alleges that major petroleum corporations including BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil executed a decades-long campaign to downplay the climate risks of their products in order to delay regulation and maximize profits.

Maui County has been sweltering through its hottest year on record, and in 2019 experienced one of its worst wildfire seasons on record. Rising seas are also affecting the Pacific island county.

“Maui County is vulnerable to rising sea levels, with four islands and nearly 300 miles of coastline,” Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said in a press release. “Worsening coastal erosion threatens shoreline structures, miles of coastal roads and infrastructure. Maui County taxpayers should not be left to bear the staggering costs of climate change impacts.”

The county is suing to shift some of these costs, estimated in the billions of dollars, onto the fossil fuel corporations.

Maui filed its lawsuit on October 12 in the state’s 2nd Circuit Court.

“Similar to Big Tobacco litigation, which ultimately held those companies liable for their dangerous products and disinformation campaigns, the Big Oil companies sold products that they knew would harm the environment, with devastating effects on public resources and infrastructure, leaving local governments and taxpayers to bear the costs,” Mayor Victorino state’s in the release. . “With all the demands our citizens face in these times of economic, social and healthcare emergencies, it’s unjust to let the oil companies scoop up profits and avoid paying for any of the damage they’ve inflicted.”

Maui County says it has more than $3.2 …

Palo Alto Paying Over $20,000 Annually to Group Fighting Climate Action

Palo Alto Paying Over $20,000 Annually to Group Fighting Climate Action

This story originally appeared in DeSmog.

Nearly a year ago, the city of Palo Alto — home to Stanford University and the unofficial capital of Silicon Valley — joined a handful of other California cities in enacting an all-electric building mandate. City leaders touted the new law, which is intended to tightly restrict future use of natural gas-powered heating and cooling in new construction, as an important part of the city’s plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2030.

At a time when California is facing climate change–driven extremes like sweltering temperatures and unprecedented wildfires, the urgency of achieving this emissions reduction target seems clear.

But as Palo Alto moves to curb climate pollution and phase out natural gas in buildings, the city is still involved with a lobby group devoted to promoting this fossil fuel. Environmental advocates call it a conflict of interest that is undercutting Palo Alto’s commitment to curbing global warming.

“Palo Alto is very pro-electric and has very aggressive climate goals, yet they’re still funding an entity that is trying to undermine those objectives,” said Matt Vespa, a California-based attorney with the environmental law organization Earthjustice. That entity is the American Public Gas Association, or APGA, a gas industry trade group that opposes policies to phase out natural gas.

Leading climate and energy experts say addressing the climate crisis requires an “electrify everything” approach of switching up everything currently running on combustion to getting power via the electric grid, since electricity can be generated from sources that don’t emit greenhouse gases.

As Palo Alto and other cities across the country are starting to embrace this approach of electrifying everything from vehicles to buildings, the fossil fuel industry and its trade groups like APGA are vehemently pushing back.

“Make no mistake, our industry faces threats on many levels, …

Supreme Court Will Hear Fossil Fuel’s Appeal of Baltimore’s Climate Lawsuit

Supreme Court Will Hear Fossil Fuel’s Appeal of Baltimore’s Climate Lawsuit

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to intervene in a climate liability lawsuit brought against 26 fossil fuel companies by Baltimore, which seeks to hold them responsible for the substantial costs of grappling with the heavy impacts of climate change.

In their petition, BP, Chevron, and other fossil fuel companies have asked the court to examine a narrow legal question in the case, which Baltimore first filed in 2018. Since then, the petroleum firms have embroiled the case in a fight over whether it should be heard in state or federal court.

Chevron spokesman Sean Comey said in a statement that the firm was “pleased” that the Supreme Court agreed to review the jurisdictional issues. The oil corporations have argued that the case belongs in federal court because it concerns national policies on energy and national security.

But the attorney for Baltimore said that the state versus federal court question will not be what’s at stake when the Justices hear arguments in this case.

“The Court has decided to review a narrow technical issue that has no bearing on the substance of Baltimore’s suit to hold these defendants accountable for the climate change harms and costs they are imposing on our taxpayers,” said Baltimore Acting Solicitor Dana P. Moore in a statement.

Moore termed the Supreme Court petition a tactic by the fossil fuel firms to delay the case’s progress to state court trial. “In public, defendants criticize our case as without merit. But in court, they do everything they can do delay proceedings and avoid a public trial on the facts,” she stated. “Their days of having it both ways are ending. Accountability is coming.”

Patrick Parenteau, an environmental law professor at Vermont Law School who has consulted informally with Baltimore, said it was a “big surprise” that …

Climate Litigation Reaches American South with Charleston, SC Filing Latest Suit

Climate Litigation Reaches American South with Charleston, SC Filing Latest Suit

The city of Charleston, South Carolina is going to court to hold two dozen oil and gas companies accountable for alleged deception about the role of fossil fuels in driving climate change.

Charleston filed its lawsuit against 24 petroleum firms in South Carolina state court on September 9, joining around 20 other communities across the country pursuing similar litigation against the fossil fuel industry. Hoboken, New Jersey filed a climate lawsuit just last week against six major oil and gas companies plus the industry’s largest trade association, the American Petroleum Institute.

Twenty-four hours after Charleston’s announcement, the state of Delaware announced the filing of its own climate liability suit against several fossil fuel companies and the American Petroleum Institute.

The Charleston lawsuit names major petroleum companies and their affiliates such as BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Phillips 66, ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum, and Shell Oil.

“As this lawsuit shows, these companies have known for more than 50 years that their products were going to cause the worst flooding the world has seen since Noah built the Ark,” Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said in a press release. “And instead of warning us, they covered up the truth and turned our flooding problems into their profits. That was wrong, and this lawsuit is all about holding them accountable for that multi-decade campaign of deception.”

The lawsuit brings legal claims of public and private nuisance, trespass, strict liability, and negligent failure to warn. It also alleges violations of South Carolina’s Unfair Trade Practices Act, a statute that prohibits deceptive practices such as misleading advertising.

This lawsuit, like many of the other climate accountability cases filed against the industry, seeks monetary compensation to help pay for the staggering costs associated with climate impacts like extreme heat, damaging flooding, severe storms and sea level rise.

According …

Hoboken, New Jersey Sues Oil Industry for Climate Impacts From its ‘Deceptive Actions’

Hoboken, New Jersey Sues Oil Industry for Climate Impacts From its ‘Deceptive Actions’

New Jersey has now joined the wave of lawsuits seeking to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for climate impacts. The city of Hoboken today filed a case against major oil and gas companies and the American Petroleum Institute (API), a powerful industry trade group which has played a major role in promoting “uncertainty” about climate science.

The lawsuit seeks to recover costs associated with climate impacts like extreme flooding and sea level rise. Like other climate liability lawsuits targeting fossil fuel companies, Hoboken’s suit alleges that the oil and gas companies and their lobbying group not only knew early on about the climate harms resulting from their products, but actively engaged in campaigns of deception to undermine climate science and avoid policy responses.

“Here in Hoboken, we are now paying the price for these deceptive actions,” Hoboken Mayor Ravi S. Bhalla said during a press conference held Wednesday, September 2. “We cannot sit idly by and let Big Oil continue profiting at the expense of Hoboken residents.”

Defendants named in the Hoboken lawsuit include BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell, and Phillips 66, plus the largest trade association in the U.S. for oil and gas, API. This lawsuit is the second climate case in recent months targeting API specifically. The Big Oil trade association is also a defendant in a lawsuit filed June 24 by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.

Hoboken’s lawsuit points to the long history of the oil and gas industry’s knowledge of the potentially damaging impacts of its products on the climate, and the differences between what they came to say about the issue publicly versus privately over time. It cites Frank Ikard, API President in 1965, when he delivered a dire warning about a report on climate change during an oil industry conference: ”[T]here …

Democrats’ New Climate Plan Blocks Immunity From Lawsuits for Climate Impacts

Democrats’ New Climate Plan Blocks Immunity From Lawsuits for Climate Impacts

This story originally appeared in DeSmog.

On Tuesday, June 30, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, released a comprehensive action plan for tackling climate change. Some environmental groups criticized the plan for lacking ambition and not directly targeting fossil fuel production. However, the Democrats’ agenda does support a powerful provision for holding fossil fuel companies accountable for their contributions to the disastrously warming planet: Not granting them legal immunity from Congress.

This principle represents a key policy position as state and municipal governments across the country seek to hold companies like ExxonMobil liable in court for decades of alleged deception on climate change.

Just last week the attorneys general of Minnesota and the District of Columbia filed back-to-back consumer protection lawsuits against Exxon and other major oil industry companies and trade groups. This litigation is reminiscent of state lawsuits against the tobacco industry.

More than a dozen municipal governments as well as the state of Rhode Island and a commercial fishing association have also sued fossil fuel companies, asking them to pay for climate-related damage and adaptation efforts.

The fossil fuel industry has fought these lawsuits tooth-and-nail. It has also floated the idea of a “liability waiver” from Congress — which would guarantee blanket immunity from lawsuits asking these companies to pay up for past, current, or future climate impacts — in exchange for a small price on carbon.

One proposed framework for carbon pricing offered by a group called the Climate Leadership Council even called specifically for a liability waiver as well as gutting the Clean Air Act’s existing legal authority to regulate climate pollution. The Climate Leadership Council, a coalition that includes major fossil fuel companies like Exxon, Shell, and ConocoPhillips as founding members, later dropped this liability waiver proposal from its carbon pricing plan.

But as climate …

Baltimore Climate Liability Suit Will Proceed in State Court

Baltimore Climate Liability Suit Will Proceed in State Court

The city of Baltimore is one step closer to holding fossil fuel companies liable for localized climate impacts. A federal appeals court on Friday ruled that the case will proceed in Maryland state court, rejecting the companies’ appeal to move the suit to federal court.

Initially filed in state court in July 2018, the suit seeks to hold 26 oil and gas companies liable for Baltimore’s costs stemming from climate change. It is one of a handful of lawsuits against fossil fuel producers filed by cities, counties, one state and one trade association, alleging the companies engaged in an elaborate disinformation campaign to discredit climate science and downplay the dangers of their product.

This conduct, the lawsuits allege, has substantially contributed to worsening climate change, and led to costly impacts like rising seas, floods, storms, heat waves, and drought.

According to a 2019 study by the Center for Climate Integrity, it will cost coastal communities more than $400 billion by 2040 to build seawalls to protect against climate change-driven sea level rise. With over 60 miles of waterfront property, Baltimore is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding. It is seeking to shift some of the that cost onto fossil fuel producers.

Fossil fuel companies have fought these lawsuits in part by trying to have them moved to federal courts, which have so far been more likely to dismiss them. Federal courts have dismissed recent cases brought by San Francisco and Oakland, as well as New York City, which have all appealed those rulings.

But other climate liability lawsuits, including Baltimore’s case, have been kept in state court, decisions that the fossil fuel companies have appealed. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals was the first to hand down a decision on these appeals, with others still pending in …