The state of California on Friday filed one of the most significant cases against major oil companies for what it sees is their role in perpetuating climate change.
The 135-page legal complaint, filed through the office of California Attorney General Rob Bonta in San Francisco superior court, alleges that five big oil companies along with the American Petroleum Institute, a trade organization that represents them, orchestrated a decadeslong disinformation campaign to hide the correlation between fossil fuel production and climate change.
The state claims that this intentional cover-up has gone on since at least the 1970s and has delayed the public’s response to climate change, exacerbating extreme natural disasters and incurring tens of billions of dollars in recovery costs.
The oil companies named as defendants are BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell. The state is seeking an abatement fund paid for by the defendants that will finance recovery efforts for the future damage of human-caused climate change. It also asks that the oil companies and their trade group pay a share of the damages from extreme weather disasters worsened by climate change.
It’s the latest in a slew of climate litigation against oil companies in cities nationwide. But California’s entrance into this legal arena is particularly damning.
The sheer number and magnitude of extreme weather events in California means the oil companies face a heftier price tag in damages if they lose the case than they might in smaller states.
“California getting involved is a big signal to other jurisdictions around the country that they think this is a winning case,” said Korey Silverman-Roati, a senior fellow at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “That could in turn motivate more people, more states, more cities, more counties to file.”
The lawsuit is also notable for its timing. It comes after an April Supreme Court ruling denied five oil companies‘ appeals to have similar cases heard in federal rather than state court. Federal appeals can sometimes be “a quick path to dismissal,” according to Silverman-Roati, but with this ruling the California suit will more likely remain on the state level.
California Gov. Newsom highlighted his support for the lawsuit in a Saturday tweet.
Friday’s complaint is demanding remedies based on seven claims, including that the oil companies and the API engaged in false advertising and the destruction of natural resources.