Baltimore officials have moved forward with a lawsuit seeking to hold the oil industry financially responsible for climate change, a day after a judge threw out a similar claim filed by New York City.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and Solicitor Andre M. Davis said the city had filed a complaint Friday in state court against 26 companies, arguing that the firms should compensate the city for damages allegedly caused by global warming.
“Baltimore has suffered, for example, two 1,000-year storms in the last couple of years,” Mr. Davis said at a press conference. “This is not right, this is not something we should permit to go uncompensated. And so we intend to seek relief.”
The timing of the Baltimore lawsuit is curious, given that U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan dismissed New York City’s lawsuit Thursday, saying the matter should be resolved by the legislative and executive branches, not the judiciary.
Mr. Davis pointed out that those rulings were made by federal judges, while Baltimore has filed its complaint in state court, and that none of the decisions has gone through the appeals process.
“What we hope through this lawsuit is to take our claims to state court judges here in Maryland, who we believe will look at the matter afresh and see that we have legitimate claims of compensation,” Mr. Davis said.
The Baltimore lawsuit named leading energy firms such as ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell as well as companies that sell fuel at gas stations within the city and those that transport the product through the Port of Baltimore.
“We want to hold oil and gas companies accountable for the catastrophes that are being caused and the consequences of their own actions,” Ms. Pugh said. “These actions have been know by these companies for several years.”
A dozen other liberal jurisdictions, including Marin County, California; and Boulder, Colorado, have sued the oil industry for potentially billions of dollars, citing the need to shore up their infrastructure against rising sea tides driven by anticipated higher temperatures.
Earlier this month, Rhode Island became the first state to enter the fray with its own lawsuit against the industry, which also was filed in state court.
A spokesman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday the city plans to appeal Judge Keenan’s dismissal of the case filed in January.
“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.”
A month earlier, U.S. District Judge William Alsup threw out similar public-nuisance claims filed by San Francisco and Oakland.
“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.”
He added: “No plaintiff has ever succeeded in bringing a nuisance claim based on global warming.”
Lindsey de la Torre, executive director of the National Association of Manufacturers’ accountability project, said Friday that such lawsuits stand little chance even if filed in state court.
“It’s time for politicians and trial lawyers to put an end to this frivolous litigation,” Ms. de la Torre said in a statement. “Taxpayer resources should not be used for baseless lawsuits that are designed to enrich trial lawyers and grab headlines for politicians. This abuse of our legal system does nothing to advance meaningful solutions, which manufacturers are focused on every day.”