A federal judge on Thursday threw out New York City’s lawsuit against five of the world’s largest oil companies, dealing another setback to liberal jurisdictions seeking to hold the petroleum industry financially responsible for global warming.
U.S. District Court Judge John Keenan in New York dismissed the complaint against ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and ConocoPhillips seeking billions to shore up infrastructure from rising sea tides and other calamities attributed by city officials to climate change.
The judge ruled that the courtroom was not the appropriate venue for the claim.
“Climate change is a fact of life, as is not contested by defendants,” Judge Keenan wrote in a 23-page opinion. “But the serious problems caused thereby are not for the judiciary to ameliorate. Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government.”
His comments echoed those of U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup, who threw out last month similar public-nuisance claims filed by San Francisco and Oakland, concluding that the issue was best addressed by the executive and legislative branches as well as the diplomatic community.
“Those dangers are worldwide. Their causes are worldwide. The benefits of fossil fuels are worldwide,” Judge Alsup said in his ruling. “The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case.”
Seth Stein, a spokesman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, said the city would appeal.
“The Mayor believes big polluters must be held accountable for their contributions to climate change and the damage it will cause New York City. We intend to appeal this decision and to keep fighting for New Yorkers who will bear the brunt of climate change,” Mr. Stein said.
Chevron attorney Theodore J. Boutrous of the law firm Gibson Dunn said that Judge Keenan “got it exactly right.”
“Trying to resolve a complex, global issue like climate change through litigation is ‘illogical,’ and would intrude on the powers of Congress and the executive branch to address these issues as part of the democratic process,” Mr. Boutrous said in a statement to Courthouse News. “The court relied on bedrock Supreme Court precedent to reject these baseless claims.”
Jay Timmons, National Association of Manufacturers president and CEO, said his group has argued since the beginning that “the courtroom was not the proper venue to address this global challenge.”
“Judge Keenan made that clear in his decision today,” said Mr. Timmons in a statement. “Now that San Francisco, Oakland and New York City have had their cases dismissed, the other municipalities should withdraw their complaints to save taxpayer resources and focus on meaningful solutions.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled the lawsuit in January, claiming that the fossil-fuel industry “knowingly misled the public” about the dangers and risks of climate change in order to “protect their profits.”
“As climate change continues to worsen, it’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient,” said Mr. de Blasio, who also announced that the city would divest its fossil-fuel holdings from its $189 billion pension funds.
New York City’s courtroom defeat came as a bad sign for the dozen liberal cities and counties in California, Colorado and Washington that have filed similar claims, as well as Rhode Island, which became the first state to pursue the legal strategy with a lawsuit filed July 2.
The state lawsuit, unveiled by Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and other top Democrats, targeted 21 oil-and-gas companies.