The state of California has initiated a significant legal case against major oil companies, accusing them of perpetuating climate change through a decades-long disinformation campaign. California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed the 135-page legal complaint in San Francisco superior court, alleging that BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, Shell, and the American Petroleum Institute (API) orchestrated this campaign to conceal the link between fossil fuel production and climate change.
According to the state, this cover-up, dating back to at least the 1970s, has hindered the public’s response to climate change, leading to exacerbated natural disasters and tens of billions of dollars in recovery costs. California seeks an abatement fund financed by the defendants to address future damage caused by climate change, along with a share of the damages resulting from extreme weather events intensified by climate change.
This lawsuit is part of a broader trend of climate litigation against oil companies across various cities in the United States. California’s involvement in such litigation carries added significance due to the state’s frequent exposure to extreme weather events, potentially leading to substantial damages for the oil companies if they lose the case.
The lawsuit coincides with a recent Supreme Court ruling denying five oil companies’ appeals to have similar cases heard in federal court rather than state court. This decision likely means that California’s case will remain at the state level.
California Governor Gavin Newsom expressed support for the lawsuit, emphasizing its importance. The complaint outlines seven claims, including false advertising and the destruction of natural resources, arguing that the oil companies’ deception caused a delayed response to global warming and resulted in significant costs to people, property, and natural resources.
The oil companies and API have rejected the allegations, branding the lawsuit as politically motivated and emphasizing the need for a coordinated international policy response to climate change. This case follows a legal model used in past litigation against industries that marketed their products as safe when they were harmful, such as opioid and tobacco companies. State courts have a history of adjudicating whether such actions are illegal, and this lawsuit will follow a similar legal path.