Government's climate change suit vs. energy cos. returns to state court.


Byline: Correy E. Stephenson

A suit seeking compensation from energy companies for the damage they have and will inflict on non-federal property and natural resources in Rhode Island should be adjudicated in state court, a federal judge has decided.

Considering a host of possible forms of federal jurisdiction under which to hear the case, U.S. District Court Judge William E. Smith rejected each in turn, granting the government's motion to remand to state court.

"Federal jurisdiction is finite," Smith wrote. "So while this Court thinks itself a fine place to litigate, the law is clear that the State can take its business elsewhere if it wants by pleading around federal jurisdiction unless Defendants provide a valid reason to force removal under statutes 'strictly construed.' Because Defendants' attempts in this regard fall short, the State's motion to remand is granted."

The Attorney General's Office did not return a request for comment on the decision. San Francisco attorney Steven Bauer, lead attorney for defendant ConocoPhillips, did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did Nicole J. Benjamin of Providence, lead attorney for BP Products North America, or Providence attorney Ryan M. Gainor, lead attorney for Chevron Corp.

The 17-page decision is State v. Chevron Corp., et al., Lawyers Weekly No. 52-086-19. The full text of the ruling can be found here.

'Climate change is expensive'

The government filed suit against a host of energy companies in state court. The eight-count complaint requested monetary and injunctive relief for damage to the state's manmade infrastructure, including its roads, bridges, railroads, dams, homes, businesses and electric grid.

In addition, the state listed expected casualties to its coastline, wildlife and the residents of the state. The government contended that it faces a more uncertain future than many other states, as sea levels in New England are increasing three to four times faster than the global average, and many of its municipalities lie below the floodplain.

The complaint further alleged that the defendants understood the consequences of their activity extracting, advertising and selling a substantial percentage of the fossil fuels burned globally since the 1960s decades ago, when transitioning to renewable sources of energy would have prevented a lot of the damage.

Instead, the government alleged, the defendants "went out of their way" to influence scientific consensus and delay change that...

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