Hawaii’s capital is opening up a fresh climate damages case against Big Oil.
Honolulu’s lawsuit marks the Aloha State’s second fight against fossil fuel companies over the costs of climate change.
“These are real impacts on people and on infrastructure, and for over 50 years, Big Oil … knew about these impacts,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said at a press conference yesterday announcing the challenge. “And much like tobacco, they said nothing until lawsuits started to be filed.”
Once approved by the City Council, Honolulu’s suit will be filed in Hawaii state court. The city joins Maui County and other U.S. municipalities in a burgeoning effort to hold oil and gas companies financially responsible for the consequences of climate change.
The forthcoming lawsuit is part of a joint effort between the Honolulu mayor’s office and members of the City Council. They brought a resolution to authorize the challenge, which will receive a full vote by the entire City Council next week.
The resolution lists Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., BP PLC, the BHP Group, ConocoPhillips, Marathon Petroleum Corp. and Aloha Petroleum Ltd. as defendants.
Sher Edling LLP, the firm representing plaintiffs in other climate damages fights across the country, is slated to represent Honolulu in the case.
Caldwell delivered his press conference on the lawsuit against a backdrop of roiling seas and overcast skies.
“The ocean is speaking about crisis as we talk,” he said as the occasional wave burst over the rocks onto the sidewalk behind him.
Caldwell said sea-level rise and coastal flooding are wreaking havoc on Oahu’s shrinking shorelines and beaches. Meanwhile, he said, fossil fuel companies have deceived the public, policymakers and the media over their contributions to the crisis.
Relocation of roads and private property damage from climate effects could cost more than $27 billion on the island of Oahu alone, and the onus shouldn’t be on taxpayers to pay for it, he said.
” need to pay just like Big Tobacco needed to pay,” Caldwell said, adding that he hopes other Hawaii municipalities will join Maui and Honolulu.
While the business community sees climate change as an issue, solutions shouldn’t make energy more expensive, Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, said in a statement to E&E News.
“Manufacturers, a vital and growing sector in Hawaii’s economy, are already leading the way and have reduced their carbon footprint by harnessing innovative technology,” she said.
“It’s critical that our resources be devoted to continued development of technological innovations and efficiency measures that are reducing emissions.”
‘A world of hurt’
Maui County and Honolulu join the ranks of more than a dozen cities, states and counties that are suing the oil and gas industry for the financial costs of climate change driven by rampant greenhouse gas emissions.
The cases are rooted in legal theories such as public nuisance, trespass and product liability.
“We in my county believe that fossil fuel is causing a lot of the climate change that’s occurring around us and that they need to be held accountable,” Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said at his own press conference announcing Maui’s lawsuit last week.
“We believe that if we don’t take action now, we will be in a world of hurt in five to 10 years.”
Although municipalities have launched their challenges in state courts, oil industry interests have pushed to move the cases to federal venues, where a judge could find that the lawsuits are preempted by the Clean Air Act.
The Supreme Court recently refused a set of requests by energy companies to halt state court proceedings while the battle over jurisdiction in several cases continues.