Climate change: Washington county lawsuit demands oil and gas companies help pay adaptation costs

The lawsuit is similar to legal efforts in Colorado, California, and New York

Clark Mindock
New York
Thursday 10 May 2018 22:30
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The count that has sued the oil giants includes Seattle
The count that has sued the oil giants includes Seattle

A county in Washington State has become the latest locality to sue the oil industry for cash to help pay for the costs of adapting to climate change.

King County — a large county in the northwest of the state that includes Seattle — filed suit against British Petroleum, Chevron, Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell, and Conocophillips, with attorneys for the county arguing that those oil giants should help pay for the “hundreds of millions of dollars” that is expected to be needed to adapt to changing conditions created by climate change.

Those five companies, the lawsuit reads, knowingly sold a product with the potential for massive consequences. Comment requests sent to the companies were not immediately returned.

“This egregious state of affairs is no accident. Rather, it is an unlawful public nuisance of the first order,” court filings read.

“The use of fossil fuels — oil, natural gas, and coal — is the primary source of the greenhouse gas pollution that causes global warming, a point that scientists settled years ago,” the filing continues, noting that a 2015 investigation revealed that scientists for the fossil fuel industry knew for decades that climate change posed a threat, but that the companies allegedly did not adequately disclose those dangers to the public or its stockholders.

Exxon, one of the companies that was implicated in that 2015, has said that it did not act in any way inconsistently with its knowledge about climate change.

Citing the heavy costs that the county will incur for adapting its infrastructure for storm water management, salmon recovery, protecting public health, and other adaptation costs, King County Executive Dow Constantine said that the lawsuit is there to make sure the companies that profited from selling fossil fuels pay their fair share.

““The science is undisputable: climate change is impacting our region today, and it will only cause greater havoc and hardships in the future,” Mr Constantine said in a statement.

“The companies that profited the most from fossil fuels should help bear the costs of managing these disasters. Big Oil spent many decades disregarding and dismissing what is our most pressing generational challenge. We must hold these companies accountable as we marshal our resources to protect and preserve what makes this region great.”

The lawsuit is at least the 11th lawsuit of its kind filed against oil and gas companies this year. The Washington county joins the likes of Boulder, Colorado — which is currently the only landlocked locality to be suing for climate change adaptation costs — as well as communities in New York and California.

“The average person should know we’re finally dealing with the costs of climate change. Irrespective of weather, this is a big concern to you,” Richard Wiles, the executive director of the Centre for Climate Integrity, told The Independent when Boulder filed its lawsuit last month.

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