In lawsuit, California accuses oil companies of lying about climate change

California filed a lawsuit Friday against five of the world's largest oil companies, alleging that they lied to the public about the damage their product is causing. The state wants the companies to pay into a fund that would support recovery from climate change-related extreme weather events like heavy storms and wildfires.

“For more than 50 years, Big Oil has been lying to us — covering up the fact that they’ve long known how dangerous the fossil fuels they produce are for our planet,” California Gov. Newsom, a Democrat, said in a statement on the suit. “California taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for billions of dollars in damages — wildfires wiping out entire communities, toxic smoke clogging our air, deadly heat waves, record-breaking droughts parching our wells."

The industry swiftly struck back.

“This ongoing, coordinated campaign to wage meritless, politicized lawsuits against a foundational American industry and its workers is nothing more than a distraction from important national conversations and an enormous waste of California taxpayer resources,” Ryan Meyers senior vice-president of the American Petroleum Institute (API), an industry group also named as a defendant, said in a statement.

Read more on Yahoo News, California lawsuit says oil giants deceived public on climate, seeks funds for storm damage, from the Associated Press

Which companies are named in the lawsuit?

California's lawsuit singles out Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP. These are five of the eight largest oil companies by market cap and five of the six largest that aren't state-owned.

Evidence of deception

The Wall Street Journal reported last Wednesday that even after ExxonMobil admitted in 2006 that the scientific consensus was that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide causes global warming, internal documents showed the company privately strategized on how to minimize public concern about climate change.

Other recent revelations

Last September, congressional investigators obtained documents showing executives at Shell and ExxonMobil privately dismissed their companies' public commitment to addressing climate change.

A study published in Science in January found that between 1977 and 2003 Exxon scientists had accurately projected future warming internally, while the company publicly disputed climate science.

A growing trend

Seven other states and 37 municipalities have filed similar lawsuits against oil and gas corporations, accusing them of lying to the public about climate change, but California is by far the largest.

Read more on Yahoo News, California sues five major oil companies for 'decades-long campaign of deception' about climate change, from the Los Angeles Times

Why this case could succeed

In August, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an effort by oil companies to force lawsuits brought by local governments to move to federal courts, meaning that they won't be able to stop California from trying this case in state court, which is widely perceived as more plaintiff-friendly.

Read more on Yahoo News, Supreme Court deals blow to oil companies by turning away climate cases, from NBC News

The counter-argument

Fossil fuel companies say that since everyone uses their products, they alone shouldn’t be blamed for climate change.

“Climate policy should be debated in Congress, not the courtroom,” Meyers of API said.

Chevron said the lawsuit has "no constructive or constitutionally permissible role" in energy policy.

“Climate change is a global problem that requires a coordinated international policy response, not piecemeal litigation for the benefit of lawyers and politicians,” the company’s statement added.

Why it matters

If California wins, other states are likely to follow suit in order to try to secure compensation for the growing costs of climate change.

“California is a bellwether for US environmental action,” Geoffrey Supran, director of the University of Miami's Climate Accountability Lab, said in a statement. “Momentum has been building for several years behind lawsuits seeking to hold Big Oil accountable for its decades of climate deception and damages, and now that the fifth largest economy in the world has waded in, the floodgates are truly open.”

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