New Jersey state officials recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of residents of the state against five major oil and gas companies as well as a petroleum trade association. Allegedly, all six organizations knowingly lied to New Jersey residents about the existence and impact of climate change and how much burning fossil fuels contributes to increasing global temperatures.
The lawsuit names BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell Oil as well as the American Petroleum Institute (API), a trade group to which all the companies belong.
State officials say the five companies and API have all known since at least the 1950s that the burning of fossil fuels is a major driver of climate change. Environmental experts say the climate change that has taken place thus far has made already catastrophic storms more damaging, and therefore the defendants are directly responsible in part for the damage the storms have caused.
“[I]nstead of sharing that knowledge, these companies undermine the science. They lie to us. It was intentional. It wasn’t some error of omission,” said Shawn LaTourette, Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection. “Because the science was inconvenient for them. Not for us, not for the people. But for them. It signaled now what is well known: that the planet is warming at an alarming rate.”
The state is seeking an injunction to stop energy companies from “deceiving” New Jersey customers about the negative impacts of fossil fuels. It is also seeking “natural resource damages.” The state claims that taxpayers will have to shoulder “billions in expenses to protect communities from rising sea levels, deadlier storms, and other climate-related harms,” and it wants the companies to foot some of the bill.
State officials have also alleged that the five oil and gas companies used a national climate denial campaign to misrepresent facts about climate change, thus violating the Consumer Fraud Act. Officials say this began in the 1980s and relied in part on groups such as API.
“This lawsuit will seek administrative penalties, compensatory damages, natural resource damages, and punitive damages. We’ll ask the court to order the defendants to stop their lying and to pay for the costs from their conduct to New Jersey,” New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin said.
The oil and gas companies, for their part, have of course spoken against the lawsuit, claiming they did nothing wrong and that the suit is a waste of time and money.
Casey Norton, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, said in a statement that the lawsuit was like others that “waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money and do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change.”
“ExxonMobil will continue to invest in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while meeting society’s growing demand for energy,” Norton continued.
When asked to respond to ExxonMobil’s statement, Platkin merely said, “We’ll see them in court.”