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Charleston sues 24 ‘Big Oil’ companies over climate change effects

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and other city officials have filed a lawsuit (.pdf) against 24 fossil fuel companies, in an attempt to hold them accountable for the city’s costs to adapt to climate change.

Tecklenburg made the announcement at a news conference on Wednesday, which he held at The Battery almost three years to the day after Hurricane Irma devastated the area with flooding.

The lawsuit asserts that the major corporate members of the fossil fuel industry — oil, coal and natural gas companies — have known for nearly half a century that unrestricted production and use of fossil fuel products would create greenhouse gas pollution that would warm the planet and change the climate. It goes on to say that this has caused extreme and volatile weather, sea level rise and associated flooding, particularly in the Lowcountry.

“And instead of warning us, they covered up the truth and turned our flooding problems into their profits,” Tecklenburg said. “That was wrong, and this lawsuit is all about holding them accountable for their multidecade campaign of deception and sharing the burden of cost for what they have brought upon us.”

The suit seeks compensatory damages, abatement of the nuisances, attorneys fees, punitive damages and several other measures of relief.

Casey Norton, corporate media relations manager at Exxon, one of the companies named in the suit, said in a statement that such lawsuits were a waste of money and do not result in reducing the effects of climate change.

“ExxonMobil will continue to invest in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while meeting society’s growing demand for energy,” Norton said. “The claims are baseless and without merit. We look forward to defending the company in court.”

Within its more than 140 pages, the lawsuit addresses six causes of action, including public and private nuisance, strict liability and negligent failure to warn, and violations of South Carolina’s Unfair Trade Practices Act.

It also addresses the consequences specific to Charleston — in particular, the increase of flooding events from four days a year 50 years ago to 89 in 2019 and the anticipated rise in temperature for the area. By 2070, the lawsuit said, the city anticipates 30 additional days a year of temperatures reaching higher than 95 degrees.

Additionally, the suit says the city has incurred significant expenses on capital projects to address the rising sea level, which Tecklenburg said has increased by 1 foot in the 100 years that it’s been measured. Scientists expect it to rise another 2 to 3 feet by 2070.

“The city seeks to ensure that the parties who have profited from externalizing the consequences and costs of dealing with global warming and its physical, environmental, social and economic consequences, bear the costs of those impacts on Charleston, rather than the city, taxpayers, residents, or broader segments of the public,” the lawsuit said.

The 24 companies named in the lawsuit are:

  • Brabham Oil Co. Inc.
  • Colonial Group Inc.
  • Enmark Stations Inc.
  • Colonial Pipeline Co.
  • Piedmont Petroleum Corp.
  • Exxon Mobil Corp.
  • Exxonmobil Oil Corp.
  • Royal Dutch Shell PLC
  • Shell Oil Co.
  • Shell Oil Products Co. LLC
  • Chevron Corp.
  • Chevron U.S.A. Inc.
  • BP PLC
  • BP America Inc.
  • Marathon Petroleum Corp.
  • Marathon Petroleum Co. L.P.
  • Speedway LLC
  • Murphy Oil Corp.
  • Murphy Oil USA Inc.
  • Hess Corp.
  • ConocoPhillips
  • ConocoPhillips Co.
  • Phillips 66
  • Phillips 66 Co.

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