Judge Narrows Scope of Delaware Lawsuit Against Fossil Fuel Industry Over Climate Change

A judge's decision significantly reduces the scope of a lawsuit that Delaware's attorney general, Kathleen Jennings, filed against the fossil fuel industry for downplaying the risks of climate change. Filed in 2020, the lawsuit sought to hold the industry accountable for the effects of air pollution in the state. Superior Court Judge Mary Johnston rejected several claims, limiting the lawsuit's reach.

While dismissing some claims, Judge Johnston ruled that the federal Clean Air Act preempts the state's claims seeking damages for injuries resulting from out-of-state or global greenhouse emissions and interstate pollution. However, she clarified that the Clean Air Act doesn't preempt claims and damages resulting from air pollution originating from sources within Delaware, emphasizing the primary responsibility of state and local governments in controlling pollution at the source.

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The judge allowed the state to pursue a general claim for environmental-based public nuisance and trespass for state-owned land but excluded land held "in public trust" based on a precedent set in a previous Delaware Supreme Court ruling.

Theodore Boutrous Jr., who is representing Chevron Corp., applauded the decision and argued that the Clean Air Act preempts claims regarding interstate pollution and out-of-state or global greenhouse emissions. He emphasized the need for a coordinated international policy response to address the global challenge of climate change.

The judge also dismissed claims related to "greenwashing" and misrepresentations by the defendants about fossil fuels' climate effects, citing a lack of specific allegations for each individual defendant. She offered the state an opportunity to amend the complaint to include particular allegations.

Johnston determined that the statute of limitations applied to claims made under the Delaware Consumer Fraud Act because evidence suggested that the general public was aware of disputes regarding the effects of climate change prior to filing them.

The American Petroleum Institute argued that its statements about fossil fuels are First Amendment-protected, but the judge deferred a decision. The state contends that API used deceptive campaigns to mislead the public, while API argues that its purpose was to comment on matters of public significance.

API's senior vice president and general counsel, Ryan Meyers, expressed encouragement at the judge's identification of "significant deficiencies" in the state's allegations, labeling the lawsuits as a distraction from important national conversations.

Jennings' office is reviewing the ruling and considering next steps, acknowledging the court's denial of several attempts by oil defendants to evade accountability.