Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has signed up the state for another legal fight against efforts by local governments to get fossil fuel companies to pay for their contributions to expensive climate change effects.
Rokita and 14 other Republican state attorneys general have joined an effort to get a federal appeals court to review a decision that allows several local governments in California to sue petrochemical companies under state nuisance laws for their alleged roles in causing climate change effects.
Rokita previously led other climate change case interventions, including a failed effort to get a federal court to review its decision to allow a similar climate change lawsuit out of Baltimore, Maryland to proceed in state court.
The lawsuits could open the door for cities seeking to recoup the costs of climate change mitigation efforts from the companies that sell the fossil fuel products spurring those changes.
“It is absurd to enable a single state’s judiciary to set policy on a global issue that affects all 50 states,” Rokita said. “A California court’s finding against the energy companies would require the companies to change the way they operate not just in California but everywhere in the world they do business.”
The city of Imperial Beach, along with Marin and San Mateo Counties, sued more than two dozen fossil fuel companies and unnamed executives in state court, accusing them of violating California state laws by concealing for decades the fact that their fossil fuel products would change the climate in ways that would cause property damage and other economic injuries and impact public health.
“Defendants, major corporate members of the fossil fuel industry, have known for nearly a half century that unrestricted production and use of their fossil fuel products create greenhouse gas pollution that warms the planet and changes our climate. They have known for decades that those impacts could be catastrophic and that only a narrow window existed to take action before the consequences would not be reversible,” the Imperial Beach lawsuit stated. “They have nevertheless engaged in a coordinated, multi-front effort to conceal and deny their own knowledge of those threats, discredit the growing body of publicly available scientific evidence, and persistently create doubt in the minds of customers, consumers, regulators, the media, journalists, teachers, and the public about the reality and consequences of the impacts of their fossil fuel pollution.”
The defendants, which include some of the largest petrochemical companies, like Chevron Corp., ExxonMobil Corp. and Marathon Oil Co., argued the cases were without merit.
The cases were moved to federal court at the behest of Chevron Corp. in 2017, but a federal judge sent the case back to California state court about six months later. The petrochemical companies appealed the decision, arguing that the case would Clean Air Act but a three-judge panel from the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the decision twice.
Rokita and the other attorneys general are asking the appeals court to review the decision a third time, this time by the “full” court consisting of the chief judge and 11 of the circuit court’s judges.
“Permitting 50 different state judiciaries to set global emissions standards would lead to utter chaos,” Rokita said. “I will keep fighting for Hoosiers on this issue. We must preserve common sense, the rule of law and sound legal precedents.”
Rokita has also filed briefs supporting reviews of other decisions allowing local governments to sue fossil fuel companies in state courts in California, Delaware, Maryland and New York.