Judge says climate issues the purview of federal government, tosses NYC lawsuit

Climate change-driven extreme weather has driven home the reason for New York City climate suit

Another Climate Lawsuit Hits the Wall

In the last month, the cities of NY and Oakland, both represented by the able lawyers at Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, failed to persuade federal judges to allow them to proceed with nuisance claims blaming major oil companies for selling fossil fuel in the face of overwhelming evidence that oil and gas emissions are responsible for climate change.

New York City's complaint, filed in January, included claims of public nuisance, private nuisance and trespass and sought monetary damages from BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell to help pay for the costs of protecting the city from climate impacts.

According to Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, the New York City decision does not determine the outcome of the other cases.

Keenan's ruling follows a San Francisco federal judge's decision last month to toss climate change lawsuits filed against oil companies by two cities in California's Bay Area. He also said that because climate change is a global problem, the city's claims "implicate countless foreign governments and their laws and policies", and could not be decided by a court.

Speaking to Reuters, a spokesman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city planned to appeal the decision.

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"The court correctly recognized that climate change is a global issue that requires a global solution by policymakers, not by the courts through litigation", said R. Hewitt Pate, Chevron's vice president and general counsel. "But there is at least one other court that found the exact opposite, namely that state public nuisance claims are available".

Attempts to sue oil companies over climate change under federal nuisance law led to a Supreme Court decision in 2011 ruling that the Clean Air Act displaced nuisance law on the federal level and put the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in charge of dealing with the issue.

The judge ruled that the courtroom was not the appropriate venue for the claim. "As an initial matter, it is not clear that Defendants" fossil fuel production and the emissions created therefrom have been an "unlawful invasion' in New York City, as the City benefits from and participates in the use of fossil fuels as a source of power, and has done so for many decades", Keenan wrote. Worldwide regulation of fossil fuel sales and emissions, the judges said, is precisely the sort of thing the Supreme Court had in mind. The Supreme Court has acknowledged that private plaintiffs can bring federal tort claims, both Keenan and Alsup wrote, but its most recent decisions have urged federal courts to be extremely leery of overextending the reach of USA laws and intruding in matters that implicate foreign policy concerns.

Despite the legally unchallenged culpability of the oil companies, the judge said that New York City's grievances couldn't be addressed in the way the city wanted.

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