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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Supreme Court pulls Biden administration into climate lawsuit showdown

The Biden administration is being called in to help the justices decide whether or not to add a climate change fight to next term’s docket.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court asked the Biden administration on Monday to weigh in on Honolulu’s climate change lawsuit against fossil fuel giants.

Oil and gas companies want the Supreme Court to block the lawsuit — and others like it — aiming to hold oil and gas companies responsible for local impacts of greenhouse gas emissions. 

“This case presents a case-dispositive and recurring question of extraordinary importance to the energy industry, which is facing dozens of lawsuits seeking billions of dollars in damages for the alleged effects of global climate change,” Kannon Shanmugam, an attorney with Paul Weiss, wrote in the companies’ petition. 

Honolulu sued major oil and gas companies like Exxon Mobile, Chevron and Sunoco over their contributions to climate change impacts on the island. The fossil fuel companies want to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming the effects of global climate change can’t be addressed by a state court. 

The pending petition could determine whether state law claims can be brought in climate change cases.

In a sign of the justices' interest in the dispute, the court invited the solicitor general to submit the government’s views on the pair of cases before deciding whether or not to hear them. 

Conservative-led states have jumped into the fight already, filing an amicus brief that called Honolulu’s lawsuit an affront to equal sovereignty and a dire threat to states’ policy choices. Led by Alabama, the states claim Honolulu is attempting extraterritorial policymaking using tort claims. 

Honolulu sued oil and gas companies over deceptive commercial practices in violation of state laws. The city accused fossil fuel companies of deliberately downplaying and misrepresenting the possible damage of greenhouse gas emissions for decades. 

“The complaint ‘do[es] not ask th[e] court to limit, cap, or enjoin the production and sale of fossil fuels’ by petitioners or anyone else,” Victor Sher, an attorney with Sher Edling representing the city, wrote in its brief. “Instead, it seeks damages for local climate-change impacts in Honolulu that are attributable to petitioners’ deceptive conduct, and it requests equitable relief to mitigate the ongoing risks posed by those local impacts through, for example, infrastructure projects to protect respondents from sea level rise.” 

The court did not give the government a deadline to file its brief.

Justice Samuel Alito did not take part in the consideration of the petitions. The George W. Bush appointee did not explain his recusal. 

Follow @KelseyReichmann
Categories / Appeals, Courts, Energy, Environment

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