In a significant development, Hawaii's Supreme Court has rejected the plea of major U.S. oil companies, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and Sunoco, to dismiss the City and County of Honolulu's climate deception lawsuit. The lawsuit, filed in 2020, alleges that these oil giants engaged in public deception campaigns to conceal the link between their products and the adverse impacts of global warming.
Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald emphasized in the majority opinion that the oil companies' argument characterizing the lawsuit as an attempt to regulate greenhouse gas emissions at the interstate and international levels was unfounded. He clarified that the suit is focused on Hawaii-based torts and seeks to challenge the promotion and sale of fossil fuel products without proper warnings, coupled with sophisticated disinformation campaigns.
Recktenwald stated, "This case concerns torts committed in Hawaii that caused alleged injuries in Hawaii. Thus, defendants' arguments on appeal fail." The decision paves the way for the lawsuit to proceed to trial, allowing the City and County of Honolulu to pursue its claims against the oil industry.
In response to the court's decision, Matthew Gonser, executive director of Honolulu's Office of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resiliency, affirmed the city's commitment to continue the legal battle. Gonser stated, "This is a good day for advancing our efforts to help Honolulu survive the costs and consequences of the climate crisis."
The court's ruling follows a period of devastating wildfires in Lahaina, Maui, which claimed the lives of at least 97 people. Scientists attribute the rapid spread of the fires to the dry conditions exacerbated by climate change.
Hawaii is not alone in holding Big Oil accountable. Numerous cities, counties, and states across the U.S., including Maui County, have initiated legal action against major oil and gas companies. In a similar vein, California, the world's largest economy, sued the fossil fuel industry in September, accusing it of prioritizing profits over environmental responsibility.
Despite a temporary dip in profits for the oil and gas industry this year, following record windfalls in the previous year, the third quarter of 2023 saw a resurgence. Exxon and Chevron, having acquired two smaller competitors, reported earnings increases of 15% and 8.5%, respectively. BP also reported a significant rise in third-quarter profits, reaching $3.29 billion.
Critics argue that the industry's pursuit of profit amidst climate disasters raises concerns about the future livability of the planet. Fossil Free Media campaign organizer Cassidy DiPaola remarked, "Big Oil's rapidly growing profits and fossil fuel expansion jeopardizes a livable future for all and the health of our democracy."
As the legal battle continues, the decision by Hawaii's Supreme Court signals a pivotal moment in the broader effort to hold major oil companies accountable for their role in contributing to climate change.