Oil company appeals are being turned away by the Supreme Court, allowing lawsuits to proceed against energy companies that may be contributing to climate change.
Five cases are involved, of lawsuits brought by cities and municipalities in Colorado, Maryland, California, Hawaii, and Rhode Island. The cases assert that the businesses behind energy production should be held in some part accountable for the effects of climate change, such as flooding, drought, extreme weather events, and the potential of sea level rise.
The oil company business groups being sued appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to force the cases to be heard in federal court, instead of state court. It’s a widely held belief that plaintiffs have a better chance of winning damage awards in state court, where they will be heard by a jury of people who might also be affected by the result, instead of by a small panel of politically appointed judges.
In the current politically climate, having these cases removed from state court to federal likely would have meant a slam dunk for the energy companies – the federal circuit courts are still weighted with Trump-appointed judges.
“Big Oil companies have been desperate to avoid trials in state courts, where they will be forced to defend their climate lies in front of juries, and today the Supreme Court declined to bail them out,” said Richard Wiles, the president of the Center for Climate Integrity, an environmental group.
Phil Goldberg, a lawyer with the National Association of Manufacturers’ legal arm, disagreed, saying climate issues should be dealt with at the national or international levels.
At least one Supreme Court Justice, Samuel Alito, owns stock in oil companies. He abstained from participating in this decision, but did not abstain in 2021 when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a similar oil company appeal against the city of Baltimore, or in 2022 when they ruled to limit the EPA’s authority to address climate change.