New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday that he is suing the largest oil companies in the United States for what he says is the fossil fuel industry’s role in causing climate change.
The lawsuit seeks billions in compensation for the damage done from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and more money to pay for preparing the city for future climate change-related events.
“The city of New York is taking on these five giants because they are the central actors, they are the first ones responsible for this crisis, and they should not get away with it anymore,” de Blasio said in a Washington Post report. “We’re going after those who have profited.”
“And what a horrible, disgusting way to profit — the way it puts so many people’s lives in danger,” de Blasio said. “It’s time that they are held accountable.”
The storm killed 53 people and caused an estimated $19 billion in damages.
The Post reported:
The suit, filed Tuesday against BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, claims the companies together produced 11 percent of all of global warming gases through the oil and gas products they have sold over the years.
It also charges that the companies and the industry have known for some time about the “consequences of climate change” but sought to obscure them.
“In this litigation, the city seeks to shift the costs of protecting the city from climate change impacts back onto the companies that have done nearly all they could to create this existential threat,” attorney Zachary Carter said of the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The mayor also called for the city to divest billions of dollars in city pension funds invested in the oil and gas industry.
The mayor will also call on several of the city’s pension funds to divest from oil companies, two sources with knowledge of the announcement confirmed to Politico.
The mayor’s call for divestment, which will ultimately have to be voted on by the pension boards, is expected to be supported by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who in the past has called for coal divestment and recently proposed exploring other means of divestment.
The largest oil and gas trade association in the United States said in the Post report that the mayor should be protecting investors not advancing the climate change agenda.
“Today Mayor de Blasio turned his back on millions of first responders, police officers and public employees who depend on their pensions to provide for themselves and their families in retirement,” Karen Moreau of the American Petroleum Institute, said.
“Government pension managers have a responsibility by law to seek the greatest return for their investors, and pensions that invest in oil and natural gas companies have delivered a stronger return than other investments,” Moreau said.
And the National Manufacturers Association (NAM) criticized the lawsuit and divestment plan, claiming it hurts workers in New York City.
Crain’s New York Business reported:
The National Association of Manufacturers held a conference call with reporters just before de Blasio and city Comptroller Scott Stringer—along with celebrity activists Bill McKibben and Naomi Wolf—declared that the city would dump around $5 billion worth of investments in 190 “horrible, disgusting” fossil-fuel firms over the next five years.
But NAM asserted both actions are ill-considered and hyper-political—damaging both to New Yorkers and long-beleaguered factory employment.
“It’s a fundamental waste of the court’s time and the taxpayer’s resources,” NAM Senior Vice President Linda Kelly said in Crain’s reporting. “The issue of climate change is not an appropriate one for the courts to be trying.”
Crain’s noted that NAM’s executive board includes officials from Exxon Mobil and other companies in the energy and automotive sector.
“Instead of focusing on politics here, Mayor de Blasio should be focusing on his fiduciary duties to New York City’s public employees,” Chris Netram, the industry organization’s vice president of tax and domestic economic policy, said. “The mayor needs to stop playing politics with the pension plans of the police officers, firefighters, and teachers.”
The Post reported responses from three of the oil companies targeted in the lawsuit.
“This lawsuit is factually and legally meritless, and will do nothing to address the serious issue of climate change,” Chevron spokesman Braden Reddall wrote in an email. “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue that requires global engagement. Should this litigation proceed, it will only serve special interests at the expense of broader policy, regulatory and economic priorities.”
Suzanne McCarron, Exxon’s vice president of public and government affairs, wrote in a blog:
ExxonMobil welcomes any well-meaning and good faith attempt to address the risks of climate change. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue and requires global participation and actions. Lawsuits of this kind — filed by trial attorneys against an industry that provides products we all rely upon to power the economy and enable our domestic life — simply do not do that.
“[Climate change] is a complex societal challenge that should be addressed through sound government policy and cultural change to drive low-carbon choices for businesses and consumers, not in the courts,” Curtis Smith, head of U.S. media relations for Shell, wrote in an email.