Honolulu is set to become the latest local government taking fossil fuel companies to court over their contribution to climate change.
Political leaders from the Hawaii capital announced plans Nov. 5 to file a lawsuit in state court that accuses energy companies of knowingly inflicting harm on Honolulu and its taxpayers by producing and promoting fossil fuels despite knowing their combustion is the primary cause of climate change.

“They need to pay just like Big Tobacco needed to pay,” Mayor Kirk Caldwell (D) said in a press conference, adding that he hopes other local governments and the state of Hawaii will file their own cases.
Honolulu joins one state and 12 local governments across the country that already have taken legal action against the industry.

Local Impacts

Honolulu noted in a press release that sea level rise linked to climate change threatens private property and state highways in the area. The Honolulu City Council must authorize the lawsuit before it can be filed. The lawsuit announcement comes a week after Maui County, Hawaii, unveiled plans for a similar case against fossil fuel companies.
“This is specifically about holding the fossil fuel corporations accountable for not fully divulging to the public the environmentally harmful effects of their product even as they were making billions of dollars in profit and actively opposing efforts to transition to a clean energy economy many years ago,” Councilmember Ron Menor, who is introducing the issue in the council, said in a statement.

The Chamber of Commerce Hawaii criticized Honolulu’s move.
“Hawaii’s business community believes in climate change and our collective responsibility to address its effects on our state. However, any approach should center on working together to take bold steps that have a lasting impact on our environment without making energy more expensive for families and businesses,” President and CEO Sherry Menor-McNamara said in a statement.

Rhode Island and local governments in New York, Maryland, Colorado, California, and Washington have filed similar litigation, alleging energy companies have created a public nuisance by producing and selling fossil fuels despite their climate impacts. The U.S. Supreme Court in October declined to step in to halt those cases from moving forward. Several federal appeals courts are weighing whether the cases should ultimately be decided by state or federal courts.

The California-based firm Sher Edling LLP is representing Honolulu. It also represents Baltimore, a set of California municipalities, and Rhode Island in similar cases.